8,000 schools closed as Nepal Maoists call indefinite strike

Last Updated: Sun, Apr 25, 2010 05:50 hrs

Close on the heels of the UN expressing deep concern at the loss suffered by Nepal's children due to mounting strikes called by the political parties, former Maoist guerrillas Sunday began an indefinite closure of public schools countrywide, demanding a rollback in new fees.

Almost 8,000 schools were forced to close by the students wing of the Maoists, the All Nepal National Independent Students' Union (Revolutionary), with the fate of nearly 1.5 million students hanging in balance.

The strike affects Indian-run schools in Nepal as well and schools run by missionaries and nuns.

At the start of the new academic session, private schools announced a fee hike after consultations with the education ministry. The hike ranges from 15 to 25 percent.

The Maoist students went on the warpath, padlocking the accounts offices of private schools and on Friday, vandalising nearly a dozen school buses, demanding that the fees be rolled back.

Private and Boarding Schools' Organisation Nepal (Pabson), an umbrella of private schools, said the schools were forced to close due to the lack of security.

The student organisation has said it will not allow the schools to re-open till they revert to the old fee structures.

The strike comes on the eve of a massive workers' protest announced by the Maoists in the capital on May 1.

Maoist chief and former prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda has threatened to start an indefinite general strike from May 2 if Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal does not resign.

The new protests come after Nepal observed the fourth anniversary of a pro-democracy movement in 2006 that ended the army-backed reign of King Gyanendra.

However, four years later, the Himalayan republic remains volatile with the government admitting it would not be able to unveil a new constitution by May 28.

On Friday night, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had tabled a report on the state of Nepal's children before the UN Security Council in New York.

The report said the 'increasing tendency of political parties and their sister organisations to impose strikes and carry out other types of protest for political and other purposes has had a negative impact on children's rights to education'.

In 2009, there were 120 separate instances of school closures and approximately 80 cumulative school days were lost, it added.