Nepal arrests 38 protesters for trying to enforce strike against 'Indian border blockade'

A student holding a placard during a protest to show solidarity against the border blockade in Kathmandu, Nepal, on Nov 27, 2015.
A student holding a placard during a protest to show solidarity against the border blockade in Kathmandu, Nepal, on Nov 27, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

KATHMANDU (AFP) - Police in Nepal arrested 38 protesters on Sunday (Nov 29) for trying to enforce a strike against neighbouring India, which is accused of orchestrating a weeks-long border blockade that has caused crippling fuel shortages.

Many shops were closed in the capital Kathmandu and traffic was thin on the roads after the strike called by a small hardline opposition Communist party.

"We have arrested 38 people for trying to block roads and vandalise vehicles," police spokesman Kamal Singh Bam told AFP.

Protests at the border over Nepal's new Constitution have led to crippling fuel shortages in the landlocked Himalayan nation, while medicines are also running short.

Nepal is heavily dependent on giant India for fuel and other supplies, but little cargo has crossed their main checkpoint since protests broke out in late September.

Movement across other border checkpoints has also slowed to a crawl, prompting Nepal's government to accuse India - which has criticised the new Constitution - of retaliating with an "unofficial blockade".

New Delhi has denied the charge and urged dialogue with the protesters, who belong to the Madhesi ethnic minority and share close cultural, linguistic and family links with Indians living across the border.

Demonstrators from the Madhesi community say the constitution adopted in September leaves them politically marginalised.

"Our strike is against India's blockade and its interference in Nepal," said Mr Khadga Bahadur Bishwokarma, a spokesman for the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).

"How long will people of Nepal suffer? India must back down."

Nepalis expressed frustration over the strike, with many fearful of driving or taking public transport in case vehicles are vandalised.

"We are already struggling with shortages, we don't need a strike to add to our woes. How will this pressure India?" said Mr Manish Karki, who opened his hardware shop in Kathmandu in defiance of the strike.

As shortages of fuel and other goods bite, smuggling has increased along the border.

On Sunday, 13 Indian border security officers crossed into Nepal chasing smugglers in the southeastern district of Jhapa, prompting reports in India that the officers had been detained.

Nepal's Armed Police Force spokesman Pushpa Ram KC denied the reports.

"The officers are not under our custody... the locals were agitated so we brought them to safety. Process is underway to send them back," he said.

Last Thursday, Kathmandu asked New Delhi to investigate claims that Indian police had crossed over and opened fire at four Nepali men.