Political parties in Nepal ask rebels to call off crippling blockade of highways

Nepal's major political parties have pleaded with communist rebels to call off a crippling blockade of highways that stranded thousands of people and caused prices of fruits and vegetables to soar, a party official said Friday.

The rebels imposed the blockade Tuesday to cut off main cities and towns from the rest of the country in the campaign to topple the government, and plan to follow that up with a nationwide general strike beginning April 3.

"We are urging the Maoists to withdraw the blockade and strike," said Minendra Risal of the Nepali Congress Democratic

The party is part of an alliance of seven major political parties that has been struggling to restore democracy in this Himalayan kingdom since King Gyanendra seized direct control over the government last year.

Senior alliance leaders traveled to New Delhi last week and are believed to be negotiating with the rebels. No details of the meetings have been given.

The alliance signed an understanding with the rebels last year to step up protests against the king.

But the rebel blockade has taken its toll on ordinary Nepalis.

Thousands of vehicles have stayed off the highways due to fears of rebel attacks while fruit and vegetable prices have doubled in Katmandu because drivers have refused to travel the Prithvi highway, the main route connecting the capital with the rest of the country, reports the AP.


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