Nepal's caretaker Prime Minister K. P. Sharma Oli was ejected from the country's ruling Communist party on Monday, his opponents said, in protest at his abrupt move in December to dissolve parliament and call for an early general election. Despite being stripped of party membership, Oli remains in office. Meanwhile judges in the Himalayan country's top court are hearing more than a dozen petitions from independent lawyers and Oli opponents on whether his move to dissolve parliament and call an early election was legitimate or unconstitutional. The court is expected to deliver its verdict next month. The ruling Nepal Communist Party has split over Oli's call for a new parliament to be elected more than a year ahead of schedule on the basis that his colleagues were not cooperating with the government on policy interventions. "We have expelled Oli from the party on the grounds that he was not following the party rules and was working against collective decision-making," said Pampha Bhusal, a senior leader of the faction opposing Oli. But Surya Thapa, an aide to Oli, said the expulsion holds no political meaning as the leader continues to remain prime minister, adding that Oli was confident of a legal and political victory. Oli says he represents the main ruling party after the split.
A team of Nepali climbers made history on Saturday after becoming the first to summit Pakistan's K2 in winter, on the same afternoon a Spanish mountaineer fell and died lower down the perilous peak. Dozens of climbers have been competing over the past few weeks to summit the world's second highest mountain, the last peak above 8,000 metres to be topped in wintertime. "WE DID IT," tweeted Seven Summit Treks, a trekking company leading one of the expeditions. "The Karakorum's 'Savage Mountain' been summited in most dangerous season: winter. Nepalese climbers finally reached the summit of Mt K2 this afternoon at 17:00 local time." But the success was overshadowed by the death of a Spanish climber, Sergi Mingote, lower down the mountain. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez described him as a "great sportsman" on Twitter, writing: "He wanted to keep on making history... and a tragic accident ended his life." The Alpine Club of Pakistan said in a statement that the climber fell while descending to Base Camp shortly before 4 pm. Secretary Karrar Haidri added the club was helping to coordinate the evacuation of the body, but with weather conditions expected to be poor overnight, it would be done on Sunday morning. The name "Savage Mountain" comes from the punishing conditions there -- winds can blow at more than 200 kilometres per hour and temperatures can drop to minus 60 degrees Celsius. Since the maiden attempt in 1987-1988, just a handful of winter expeditions have been tried on the storied 8,611-metre peak in the Karakoram range along the Chinese border. None had got higher than 7,650 metres until Saturday, when the good conditions allowed the successful team to push ahead. The 10 Nepali climbers had earlier been spread across different teams, but formed a new group in order to claim the feat in Nepal's name. Despite being famed for their climbing expertise, there has never before been a Nepali climber on the first winter ascent of a peak over 8,000 metres. One of the triumphant climbers, Nirmal Purja, who is also known as Nimsdai, described it as a "very special moment". "The whole team waited 10m below the summit to form a group then stepped onto the summit together whilst singing our Nepalese National Anthem," wrote Purja in a social media post. "We are proud to have been a part of history for humankind and to show that collaboration, teamwork and a positive mental attitude can push limits to what we feel might be possible." At least one of the climbers, Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, had planned to reach the summit without using oxygen. The news sparked joy throughout Nepal, long used to watching foreign climbers seize the records. "For decades, Nepalis have assisted foreigners to reach the summits of the Himalayas, but we've not been getting the recognition we deserve," said renowned Nepali climber Kami Rita Sherpa, who has climbed Everest a record 24 times. "The spotlight has always been on foreign climbers. It is wonderful that today on K2 ten Nepalis have made history and shown our bravery and strength." Nepali guides, usually ethnic Sherpas from the valleys around Everest, are considered the backbone of the climbing industry in the Himalayas for bearing huge risks to carry equipment and food, fix ropes and repair ladders. "Sherpas are top climbers of the world, and it is a proud moment for us. But reaching the summit is only the first half. We hope now that they can all make it back down safely," warned Ang Tshering Sherpa, the former president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association. One of the final technical difficulties to be overcome by the group was the dreaded "bottleneck", a narrow and steep passage where 11 people were killed in August 2008 in K2's worst known tragedy. Many climbers have died trying to reach the summit, while others were killed on the dangerous descent. Lockdowns and travel bans sparked by the coronavirus pandemic meant the summer climbing season last year was a bust in most of the popular climbing destinations in the region, such as Nepal. With Pakistan's borders open and few other places to go, this winter an unprecedented four teams totalling around 60 climbers converged on the mountain, more than all previous expeditions put together. Unlike Mount Everest, which has been topped by thousands of climbers young and old, K2 is a much lonelier place. Northern Pakistan is home to some of the world's tallest mountains, including K2 in the territory of Gilgit-Baltistan. Nestled between the western end of the Himalayas, the Hindu Kush mountains and the Karakoram range, Gilgit-Baltistan has 18 of the world's 50 highest peaks.
Nepal's top court on Wednesday will begin hearings on petitions challenging Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli's sudden decision to dissolve the parliament, a move that has triggered public outrage and has been labelled unconstitutional. In their plea before the Supreme Court, politicians, activists and lawyers are questioning whether it is the legitimate right of the leader to dissolve the parliament, 18 months before schedule. The Oli, 68, cited internal squabbling within his ruling Communist party and lack of political unity as reasons behind his Dec. 20 decision. His colleagues and opposition political parties have blamed Oli for derailing a stable government amid a pandemic that has triggered an economic downturn. Seven ministers have quit Oli's government to oppose his move and protesters last month burnt effigies of him. ‘The constitution duly defines and delimits the power of the prime minister,’ said Dinesh Tripathi, an independent petitioner. ‘It does not give Oli the prerogative to cause an untimely death to parliament at his will,’ he said. The five-member constitutional bench of the Supreme Court, including the chief justice, will hear at least 13 petitions questioning the rights of the prime minister. Officials working with Oli said his move was in line with the constitution. ‘We are fully prepared to face the challenge in the court,’ said Rajan Bhattarai, an aide to Oli. If the court upholds Oli's move, Nepal will hold elections this summer. If not, parliament will be reinstated. ‘If the verdict is in favour of the dissolution, there will be elections for a new parliament but we risk that in the near future, governments may not complete a full five-year-term, as the prime minister could dissolve it anytime,’ said constitutional lawyer Bhimarjun Acharya. ‘The country has been trapped into a tunnel of instability, as the dissolution was a blunder,’ Acharya added.
Nepal will likely head to the polls next year after parliament was abruptly dissolved yesterday, a move prompted by infighting between the Himalayan nation’s premier and members of his party, including former Maoist rebels. Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli’s government has weathered accusations of corruption and criticism for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic. But his decision to request a new poll comes after months of clashes with Pushpa Kamal Dahal, a former insurgent leader who helped Oli come to power when their political parties merged in 2018. The pair had previously clashed over their power-sharing agreement and a lack of consultation. Members of Oli’s party, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the prime minister’s sudden move was also triggered by the possibility of a no-confidence vote against him in parliament. Fresh elections will be held in April and May next year, the office of President Bidhya Devi Bhandari said in a statement after she approved the dissolution. Ninety parliamentarians from the ruling party rushed to register a vote of no-confidence after Oli sent his request to the president. President Bhandari, who hails from the ruling party and is considered close to Oli, was criticised for agreeing to Oli’s dissolution recommendation so quickly. “The president has also become part of the political crime by quickly endorsing the prime minister’s move without consultation,” said Gagan Thapa, an opposition leader from the Nepali Congress party. Seven ministers resigned following the dissolution, saying in a statement that it goes “against the people’s mandate and political principals”, while some protesters took to the street in the capital. The decision plunges Nepal into months of fresh political uncertainty after years of instability and short-lived governments that followed a decade-long civil war. Analysts said the dissolution of parliament was likely to be challenged in court. “The prime minister cannot recommend dissolution of parliament until there are chances of forming an alternative government,” legal expert Bipin Adhikari told AFP, calling the move unconstitutional.
Nepal's president dissolved parliament on Sunday at the request of Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli's cabinet and announced that general elections would be held in April and May, more than a year ahead of schedule. The move plunges the Himalayan country, which has seen revolving-door governance since street protests restored multi-party democracy in 1990, into political turmoil as it battles the coronavirus pandemic. President Bidhya Devi Bhandari's office said in a statement the next vote will be held on April 30 and May 10, as recommended by the cabinet following an emergency meeting. Oli, 68, pushed for a fresh mandate after the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) accused him of sidelining his party in government decisions and appointments. He had led an alliance with former Maoist rebels to a landslide victory in 2017. "The prime minister has lost the majority in the parliamentary party, central committee and the secretariat of the party," said Bishnu Rijal, an NCP central committee member. "Instead of seeking a compromise within the party, he chose to dissolve parliament." Sandwiched between China and India, politics in Nepal is also influenced by the priorities of its giant neighbours. India has been pushing back against Beijing's growing clout in a country that New Delhi considers its own backyard. Oli aide Rajan Bhattarai said the prime minister had acted in response to the backlash from his party, which had also asked him to consider quitting as its president. Politicians and social media users said the ruling party should have tried out other political combinations to run the country instead of calling an untimely election when its tourism-dependent economy has been battered by the pandemic. Nepal's 2015 charter does not give the prime minister the prerogative to dissolve parliament without exhausting alternatives, constitutional expert Bipin Adhikari said. "It is unconstitutional at the first sight," he said, adding that the decision could be challenged in the Supreme Court, which may take a couple of weeks to decide its legality. Dozens of protesters gathered near the prime minister’s office, calling the move unconstitutional. After his 2017 win, Oli had vowed to ensure political stability, fight corruption and poverty but has made little progress, especially since the pandemic. Coronavirus infections have reached 253,772, with 1,788 deaths, in the country of 30 million people. "PM Oli chose to betray the people's mandate for stability, development and dignity," former diplomat Dinesh Bhattarai tweeted.
Four women wearing protective gear lift the body of a coronavirus victim at the Pashupati crematorium in Nepal's capital, Kathmandu, and hand it over to crematory workers - a scene unimaginable in the conservative country in recent years. Women touching a dead body is still a cultural taboo in Nepal. But rights for women have improved since the majority-Hindu country emerged from a decade-long conflict in 2006 and abolished its centuries-old feudal monarchy two years later. The women carrying corpses in Kathmandu, all soldiers, are being deployed for the first time as the nation of 30 million people tries to manage the bodies of Covid-19 victims amid the growing pandemic. ‘I feel privileged and happy for being given a chance to do the work that was done only by the males so far,’ said one of the women, a 25-year-old corporal named Rachana, who asked to be identified by just one name. ‘Society is changing ... I have not been to my family since I started my new duty, but my friends are happy. They thank me and say, 'You have performed a difficult task carefully and maintained your personal safety. Thank you’. I feel happy.’ On their first day on the job last month, the four moved six bodies from a hospital to a crematorium. Nepal Army spokesman Shantosh B. Poudyal said the 95,000-strong force was putting women soldiers in new roles, part of a programme to empower them. ‘Women were deployed in combat duty, hospitals, ordnance, engineers and disasters before. This is the first time they are managing the bodies from hospitals and transporting them to the crematorium,’ Poudyal told Reuters. ‘You can say it is breaking the borders … breaking the glass ceiling.’ Nepal's army is responsible for managing the bodies of coronavirus victims across the nation. The pandemic has killed 1,508 people in the country and infected 233,452 since the virus was first detected in January, according to official data. On Monday, 29 people were reported dead from Covid-19, the highest number of daily fatalities since Nov. 4, health ministry data showed. Keeping count of infections and deaths is a challenge, as testing is limited, and experts say the real numbers could be far higher than the official data. A panel is looking into discrepancies, authorities say. Health workers say the pandemic will only worsen as winter sets in and limited health infrastructure, including critical care beds, is stretched. Outside the Pashupati cremation house, wailing relatives threw marigolds and vermillion powder over an iron fence onto a white shroud covering the body of a 58-year-old man. Three other bodies, with tags bearing their names and ages pinned to the bags, laid on the ground next to a white hearse as crematory workers worked past the midnight. ‘It is my duty to remove the dead bodies and I am proud of what I am doing,’ said Krishna Kumari, another soldier in the group. The 37-year-old sergeant added: ‘The work is physically demanding ... and we have proved that women are capable of doing difficult tasks during the pandemic.’
Every winter, Lorina Sthapit and her cousins would warm their feet in woollen socks freshly knitted by their grandmother. As the brightly coloured pairs stacked up in her cupboard, the 32-year-old felt inspired to share the creations with the world – co-founding a crafts venture that not only sells such handmade products but also delves into the seldom-told lives of their mostly elderly female makers. “Each product has a story and historical and cultural value. We want to keep their legacy and skills alive for the future,” Sthapit said. “They grew up at a time when most things were handmade, not store-bought. So there is an amazing wealth of skills and experiences among people of that generation.” Aji’s – which means grandmother – was founded in 2018 by Sthapit, her sister Irina and husband Pursarth Tuladhar, selling a variety of products including knitwear, blankets and jewellery. Through podcasts and blogs, Sthapit and the makers’ grandchildren take listeners and readers on a nostalgic journey through the lives of the elderly artisans. The tales – from being married at just eight-years-old, battling to be given an education and raising five children as a single mother in the patriarchal society – shed light on Nepal’s rich social and cultural history, but also its strict gendered social order. Born in Kathmandu in 1988, Sthapit found herself drawn to the Indian classical dance of Kathak — derived from the Sanskrit word kathaka, or storyteller. From just 18-years-old, she started to perform in national and international dance events. The gender studies graduate then taught a course in women’s empowerment at Nepal’s first women’s college Padma Kanya Multiple Campus. A decade-long career in international development followed, including working for Oxfam and the United Nations’ International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). She worked around the world from Uganda to Uzbekistan, but felt she wanted to make a difference in her home country. Undaunted by the male-dominated start-up world, Sthapit quit her NGO job to work full-time on Aji’s. She slowly cultivated loyal customers who shared their love for the products with others, eventually drawing the attention of the wider public and international clients. Aji’s now has 30 elderly women and men working with them, using traditional Nepali techniques and materials. The crafts are sold at two stores in the Kathmandu valley and on the online marketplace Etsy. The company works closely with makers’ children or grandchildren, in an effort to help the families develop closer bonds. Sthapit herself learnt that her grandmother was “more confident and bold than I thought”. “It was as if this side of her was hidden and she has now found recognition and uncovered her bolder confident self,” she said. Sthapit found the social enterprise had another benefit — it gave the artisans a sense of purpose. When she first told her grandmother, Champa Devi Tuladhar, that her socks were being snapped up, the 77-year-old’s eyes lit up. “My grandmother really enjoys being busy and even forgets her joint pains when knitting,” Sthapit said. Parents traditionally live with their children in Nepal with the elderly discouraged from working and earning. But ageing populations have forced a global shift in attitudes to those aged 65 and older – in fashion catwalks have seen greater age diversity and models such as Jan de Villeneuve, and Elon Musk’s mother Maye Musk, have made names for themselves as fashion stars in their 60s and 70s. Businesses pay greater attention to so-called “grey dollar” and older consumers, while studies have shown keeping active boosts older people’s physical and mental well-being. Sthapit was emboldened by her grandmother’s joy about how popular her socks had become. “The excitement it brought in her life made me think of other grandparents who might enjoy creating things too,” she said. Tuladhar herself has become an evangelist for staying active. “Old people say that you shouldn’t work but I really enjoy working... and also tell others to get involved,” Tuladhar said. Another craftswoman, Dil Hera Tuladhar, has sewn traditional blankets and shawls for years. But for the first time, she’s started earning from them. “I had never made money in my life. It made me so happy and proud,” the 85-year-old said. For Sthapit, the venture has grown much bigger than she envisaged. “We want to be able to help elders live a healthy, happy life, whether by promoting their creations...or sharing their stories.”It just gives them a lot of joy...That’s what drives us.”
Nepal will provide free Covid-19 tests and treatment, an aide to the prime minister said on Tuesday, as the total number of infections was set to cross the 200,000 mark. The move follows a Supreme Court order for free treatment last week after the Communist government asked citizens who could afford to pay to do so, limiting free testing and care to only those who couldn't. Surya Thapa, an aide to Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli, said all government hospitals would provide testing and treatment to Covid-19 patients for free. "Those who want fast services and wish to pay can continue to go to private hospitals,” Thapa told Reuters. Experts say many Covid-19 patients stayed home in isolation rather than pay up to 150,000 Nepali rupees ($1,266.57) in deposits before admission to a hospital. "This also led to fewer people turning up for testing and less contact tracing, causing a rapid increase in infections,” Rabindra Pandey, a public health expert, told Reuters. Nepal has so far reported 197,024 coronavirus cases and 1,126 deaths, according to government data. There were 2,571 cases and 18 deaths on Monday. A Reuters tally showed the average number of daily infections was higher than any of Nepal's regional neighbours except India. Prime Minister Oli has been criticised for the government's poor handling of the pandemic and for playing down the risks initially. In June, protesters demanding more tests and better care for the coronavirus clashed with police, who used water cannons to break up the demonstrations. Nepal, which has poor health infrastructure, says it has testing facilities for 23,000 samples, but on an average fewer than 15,000 tests are conducted daily.
Three advisers to Nepal's Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli said on Saturday they had tested positive for Covid-19, which has claimed the lives of 528 people in the country. Oli's press, political and foreign affairs advisers told Reuters they had been infected and were isolating themselves. An assistant working for Oli also tested positive, they added. Oli has previously tested negative, but had yet to take a test after his associates tested positive, press adviser Surya Thapa said. "The prime minister has been exercising extreme caution while meeting with people," Thapa told Reuters. Oli's personal physician had earlier tested positive and is isolating herself, Thapa said, adding that more than two dozen security personnel at Oli's official residence have also tested positive. Nepal's Covid-19 cases rose by 2,120 to 84,570 on Saturday, the country's health ministry said. Neighbouring India's coronavirus death toll passed 100,000 on Saturday, making it the third country to reach that milestone, after the United States and Brazil, and its epidemic shows no sign of abating.
An earthquake of magnitude 6.0 on the Richter scale jolted central Nepal today morning. "An earthquake of magnitude 6.0 occurred around Ramche of Sindhupalchok district at 5:19 am," the National Seismological Centre tweeted minutes after the tremors. The epicentre of the tremor has been recorded at Ramche of Sindhupalchok district. The tremors were felt in the most eastern part of the country as well. "Since the jolt was felt, we haven't received any reports of damage or loss of human lives. We have already contacted all the wards inside the district to confirm if any mishap occurred or anybody needs any assistance. As of now, we haven't received any information on the matter," Superintendent of Police stationed at Sindhupalchok Rajan Adhikari said. In 2015, nearly 10,000 people had lost their lives and thousands were injured when an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.9 Richter scale had struck the Himalayan nation.
Nepali businesses have laid off 22.5% of their workers as measures to contain the novel coronavirus hit tourism and other activities, a senior central bank official said on Thursday, citing a study of the economic impact of the outbreak. The study of nearly 700 enterprises in 52 of the Himalayan nation’s 77 districts, conducted by the central bank in June, showed most jobs lost in hotels and restaurants followed by agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and the wholesale and retail sectors. Nepal imposed a nationwide lockdown in March after reporting two confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus. That put an end to its spring climbing and hiking season, which draws visitors from around the world. The containment measures were partially eased in June but economic activity would take some time to recover, even if the coronavirus was eliminated, said Gunakar Bhatta, an executive director of the Nepal Rastra Bank, who led the study. ‘Businesses, specially the hotels, said it will take them 13 months to return to a pre-Covid-19 situation,’ Bhatta told Reuters. Workers faced average salary cuts of more than 18%, the study found, while the virus forced 61% of business to close completely. Production and turnover of those that stayed open were on average up to 73% lower, the report said. Nepal, wedged between China and India, has reported 24,432 coronavirus cases with 91 deaths and health workers say the peak of infections could still be weeks away. Following the outbreak, Nepal lowered its forecast for growth for the fiscal year that ended in mid-July to 2.3% from 8.5%. About 20% of Nepal's 30 million people live on a daily income of below $2 and are heavily dependent on the informal sector.
Heavy rains triggered flash floods and landslides that killed at least 40 people and displaced thousands in western Nepal, officials said yesterday. Twenty people were killed and at least 13 others were missing in Myagdi district, 200km (125 miles) northwest of the capital Kathmandu, where several houses were destroyed on Friday, district administrator Gyan Nath Dhakal said. “Rescuers are looking for those who are still missing in Myagdi,” Dhakal said, adding that 50 people had been plucked to safety using helicopters. “Eleven people who were injured in the landslides have been moved to nearby hospitals,” he said. In neighbouring Kaski district, seven people were killed, said a second government official in the tourist town of Pokhara. Another seven were killed in Jajarkot district in the far west. “We are searching for eight people who are still missing,” said Kishore Shrestha, a senior police official, said. Six people were killed in Gulmi, Lamjung and Sindhupalchowk in central Nepal. In the southern plains bordering India, the Koshi river, which causes deadly floods in the eastern Indian state of Bihar almost every year, was flowing above the danger level, police said. Landslides and flash floods are a common occurrence in mountainous Nepal during the June-September monsoon every year.
Heavy rains triggered flash floods and landslides that killed at least 40 people and displaced thousands in western Nepal, officials said on Saturday. Twenty people were killed and at least 13 others were missing in Myagdi district, 200 km northwest of the capital Kathmandu, where several houses were destroyed on Friday, district administrator Gyan Nath Dhakal said. "Rescuers are looking for those who are still missing in Myagdi," Dhakal said, adding that 50 people had been plucked to safety using helicopters. "Eleven people who were injured in the landslides have been moved to nearby hospitals," he said. In neighbouring Kaski district, seven people were killed, said a second government official in the tourist town of Pokhara. Another seven were killed in Jajarkot district in the far west. "We are searching for eight people who are still missing," said Kishore Shrestha, a senior police official, said. Six people were killed in Gulmi, Lamjung and Sindhupalchowk in central Nepal. In the southern plains bordering India, the Koshi river, which causes deadly floods in the eastern Indian state of Bihar almost every year, was flowing above the danger level, police said. Landslides and flash floods are a common occurrence in mountainous Nepal during the June-September monsoon every year.
The lower house of Nepal's parliament on Saturday approved a new map of the country, including areas disputed with India, the speaker of the national legislature said. The move signals a hardening of Nepal's position over a decades-long border row that has strained ties between the South Asian neighbours. India's foreign ministry rejected Nepal's new map, arguing that the addition of Indian territory is not based on historical fact or evidence. "It is also violative of our current understanding to hold talks on outstanding boundary issues," foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said in a statement. Nepal published its revised map in May after India inaugurated a 80 km road connecting its northern Uttarakhand state with Lipulekh on the border with Tibet that passes through the land Nepal says belongs to it. The map shows a sliver of land on the northwest tip of Nepal as the Nepali territory. Agni Prasad Sapkota, Speaker of Nepal's House of Representatives, said the new map was approved by 258 out of 275 members of parliament, exceeding the required two thirds majority. There were no votes against. The map must also be passed by the National Assembly, the parliament's upper chamber, and approved by President Bidhya Devi Bhandari before it becomes a part of the constitution. In the capital city Kathmandu, dozens of people painted the new map on a street and lit candles on it in celebration of Saturday's decision. Standing outside parliament after the vote, Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli held out the prospect of talks with India to resolve the dispute. "It is a good thing that there is unity," Oli told reporters. "Now there will be talks (with India)."
Police in Nepal arrested 10 people, including seven foreigners, on Saturday as demonstrations against the government's handling of the coronavirus crisis continued with hundreds of protesters gathering in the capital city Kathmandu, officials said. The Himalayan nation imposed a complete lockdown in March after reporting its second confirmed coronavirus case. But the number of infections have since increased to 5,062, with 16 deaths, and the government has come under fire for not doing enough to contain the outbreak. Police officials said an estimated 1,000 people had gathered on a major thoroughfare in Kathmandu for the third day, where seven foreign nationals were arrested. ‘The foreigners were arrested for interfering in Nepal's internal affairs,’ police official Basant Lama said. Earlier this week, police used baton charges, water cannons and tear gas to break up protests near the prime minister's residence. No such clashes took place on Saturday. Protesters are demanding better quarantine facilities, more tests and transparency in the purchase of medical supplies to fight the crisis. ‘Quarantine facilities lack water, sanitation and safety,’ protester Ramesh Pradhan said. ‘They are becoming the breeding centres for the coronavirus. This must be improved.’ Nepal's government says it has spent about $89 million to fight the pandemic, has conducted around 310,000 tests and quarantined some 158,000 people. But activists insist this is not enough in a country of 30 million people. ‘The government is committed to increase tests, boost medical services and improve the quarantine facilities,’ Deputy Prime Minister Ishwor Pokhrel, who is leading the country's coronavirus response, said in a statement on Saturday.
Police fired water cannon at about 500 people who staged a demonstration in Kathmandu yesterday against the Nepali government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. Protesters, carrying banners reading “enough is enough”, demanded better testing and quarantine facilities for returning migrant workers and greater transparency in government spending. Ten demonstrators who gathered near the prime minister’s residence were arrested, police said. Nepal imposed a nationwide lockdown on March 24 when the country had two confirmed coronavirus infections. The number of cases currently stands at 3,762 with 14 deaths. “The economy is in shambles, the government has pushed our health and the health system in crisis and they have been ineffective and incapable,” Jagannath Lamichhane, a mental health expert who took part in the protest, said. Tens of thousands of migrant workers have returned to Nepal from India and the Middle East after losing their jobs, overwhelming testing and quarantine facilities in border areas. “The government had time and could have prepared much better. We were there to call on the government to do better,” photographer Prajwal Bhattarai, 29, who was among those arrested, told AFP by telephone. Nepal’s coronavirus lockdown is scheduled to run until June 14.
The UN rights chief has urged Nepal to investigate the murder of six young members of the persecuted Dalit minority, including a 12-year-old girl, after the deadly attacks sparked outrage in the Himalayan country. The tradition of "untouchability" and mistreatment against the low-caste Dalits, who make up around 13 percent of Nepal's population, persists even though discrimination is formally outlawed. Last week a group of young friends were chased and attacked by a village mob, incensed that one of the boys was planning to marry a girl from a different caste. They were forced to jump into a river in western Rukum district where at least five of them drowned, according to police and media reports, while a sixth was still missing. Police have so far arrested 20 people over the attack, including a local government official accused of participating. In another incident on the same day, the body of a 12-year-old Dalit girl was found hanging from a tree in the southern district of Rupendehi. She had been killed after she was forced to marry her alleged rapist from a different caste, the UN said. "Despite constitutional guarantees, impunity for caste-based discrimination and violence remains high in Nepal," UN high commissioner for human rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement calling for an independent investigation into the deaths. The deaths have sparked an outcry on social media and in Nepal's parliament. A small group defied the coronavirus lockdown in capital Kathmandu to stage a demonstration against the killings. "These horrific deaths exemplify the discrimination and violence that Dalits continue to face in Nepal," said Amnesty International's Nirajan Thapaliya. Government spokesman Kedar Nath Sharma said authorities were investigating the attack in Rukum. "We are committed to finding the truth," Sharma told AFP. Dalits in Nepal are frequently banned from entering temples or drinking from communal wells and inter-caste marriages are often frowned upon.
The Nepal government has announced that health, education, economic recovery and employment will be key priority for the budget for next fiscal year 2020-21. After a prolonged focus on physical infrastructure, the government was focusing on social sectors such as health and education after the Covid-19 pandemic showed the inadequacy of health infrastructure in Nepal, reports Xinhua news agency. By presenting Policies and Programmes of the government for the next fiscal year at the joint session of parliament - House of Representatives and National Assembly on Friday, President Bidya Devi Bhandari said that the necessary infrastructure would be developed in the areas of health and education to deliver international standards services in these areas. The Policies and Programmes indicates what types of annual budget would be presented by the government for the next fiscal year 2020-21 which will begin in mid-July. The government will present the budget for next fiscal year on May 29. In the health sector, it plans to increase the number of health institutes, increase their capacity and develop infrastructure and human resources. Improving quality of education from public educational institutes, focus on technical education and expansion of online education are priorities in the education sector, according to the Policies and the Programmes. Realising that many Nepali migrant workers who are employed in Gulf nations, Malaysia and India could return home due to the impact of the Covid-19 on the economies of host countries, creating employment opportunities for them would be another focus of the Nepali government. According to Nepal’s Ministry of Labour and Social Security, more than 400,000 migrant workers are expected to return home due to the impact of the Covid-19 in the host countries. The Nepali government has also planned to introduce a recovery plan of the tourism sector badly affected by the pandemic, the Policies and Programmes says. Meanwhile, the Central Bureau of Statistics said late last month that Nepal’s economy could grow by just 2.27%, the lowest growth projection in the last five years, against the target of 8.5% in the current fiscal year. In the last three fiscal years, Nepal has achieved growth over 6%.
Nepal’s foreign minister summoned India’s ambassador yesterday over a new road being built through disputed territory as police arrested protesters who burnt effigies of the leaders of both countries. Anger has been mounting since India on Friday inaugurated an 80km (50 mile) road in Uttarakhand state leading up to the Lipu Lekh pass, high in the Himalayas. Nepal claims the pass under an 1816 treaty that sets their borders. Scores of demonstrators defied a coronavirus lockdown to burn effigies of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Nepali counterpart, K P Sharma Oli, at several protests in Kathmandu. Protesters say the government has not done enough to counter the Indian project. Police said at least 30 people were detained. Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali summoned Indian ambassador Vinay Mohan Kwatra to hand over a protest note over the road, foreign ministry spokesman Bharat Raj Poudyal said. Nepal on Saturday condemned India’s “unilateral act” that “runs against the understanding reached between the two countries... that a solution to boundary issues would be sought through negotiations.” In response, an Indian foreign ministry spokesman said the contested road “lies completely within the territory of India”. Nepal has a series of boundary niggles with its giant neighbours, India and China. Nepal protested to both in 2015 when they issued a statement listing the Lipu Lekh pass as a bilateral trade route. Kathmandu also claims the Kalapani region, which adjoins Lipu Lekh, although Indian troops have been deployed there since India and China fought a border war in 1962. Last year India published a map that showed Kalapani within its borders, a move protested by Nepal.