Maoist students in angry protest over fuel price rise in Nepal

KATHMANDU (REUTERS) - Maoist student activists led a partial strike in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu and stoned or set fire to a dozen vehicles on Wednesday, demanding that the newly elected government cancel a fuel price rise.

State-run Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) increased petrol and diesel prices by up to 7.6 per cent earlier this week, saying the move was needed to reduce its losses.

On Wednesday, the student protesters marched through the streets of the capital, disrupting rush-hour traffic and shouting: "Roll back the fuel price increase." As part of a general strike demanded by the student union, schools and colleges were closed, some businesses shut and public transport was thin. The protesters stoned some vehicles that defied their shutdown call.

A police spokesman said three vehicles were set on fire and 10 were stoned and damaged. He said police detained more than 100 activists for trying to enforce the closure of shops, transport, schools and colleges. No one was reported injured.

The student union is affiliated with former Maoist rebels who fought a decade-long civil war before joining the political mainstream under a 2006 peace deal. They trailed as the third biggest group in parliament in elections last November.

On Tuesday, the Maoist opposition and some lawmakers from the ruling centre-left coalition opposed the price rise in parliament, saying the government should look at ways to cut costs at NOC. The government says there was no alternative to the increase, with NOC losses estimated at US$17 million (S$21 million) a month.

Nepal imports about one million tonnes of petroleum products from India annually, and owes millions of dollars to the Indian state-run Indian Oil Corporation, the sole supplier of fuel to the Himalayan country.

Student leaders had rejected a government offer for a partial rollback of the fuel price increase on Tuesday, demanding a complete reversal. In 2008, the government was forced to cancel a fuel price increase after protests crippled life for two days across the country.