Friday, May 7, 2010

Peace Rally- Maoist General Strike Ends

So less than half an hour ago we got word through the internet that the Maoists have called off the strike. This comes after a day filled with close calls on clashes, and a very large peace rally in Durbar Square aimed at putting pressure on stopping the foolishness that is the bandha called for by the Maoists. 
This morning we attended the peace rally, though we had some difficulty getting there. Maoists had formed a human wall as you got close to where you enter the square from New Road and were preventing people from getting to the rally. Luckily Kim myself and Sami were also accompanied by a girl, Laura and a Nepali friend of hers that is a free lance photographer/journalist. With their credentials the Maoists let us through, the other Nepali people we were with however got turned back. Walking past the Maoists I took a bunch of pictures, above one of them gives me the thumbs up.

Once we reached Durbar Square it was a sea of people dressed in white. The entire area was packed with people, all the steps of the temples were filled, the roads were packed and there were places you just couldn't walk due to the sheer numbers that showed up. Republica and other news agencies estimate the numbers as tens of thousands of people.
This is where I watched most of the rally from. Understandably all the speeches were in Nepali, but luckily we were able to get rough translations. As the protest was a-political the theme was mostly about how people just wanted to go back to living their lives and for this strike and political fighting to end. It was not supporting the current government, and it was not denouncing on all terms the Maoists, the Nepali's were standing up and saying that they wanted politics to stop screwing up their lives, they wanted peace, and they wanted their city back.
Among the speakers were the head of the Nepali chamber of commerce, there were a pair of well known Nepali comedians who did some satire and a famous Nepali singer added some really nice music right around when we arrived. The whole rally had a very positive feel to it. It ended with the organisers asking the crowd to disperse so as to not cause any confrontation with the Maoists who were still swarming the nearby streets. Apparently some tear gas canisters were fired somewhere to prevent people from getting into a fight, but the gathering dispersed largely without incident.

With the potential for a counter popular uprising directed at the Maoists from the citizens of the city they were shutting down, I think they realized if they didn't call off the strike that there would soon be violence, and in a sense of irony it would largely be the police having to protect the Maoists. Politically that disaster is even more bitter than the position they are taking now which will undoubtedly weaken their position in Nepali politics.

Assuming that the strike would go through the weekend I had rented a mountain bike to ride out to the endge of the valley on the barren roads...doesn't look like that will happen. Looks like I'll be riding in the exhaust filled chaotic Kathmandu streets I've come to love.

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