KATHMANDU: A Nepali lawmaker, tipped to be the next prime minister, Wednesday accused neighbouring giant India of deliberately blocking vital supplies into the landlocked country, as the government announced fresh fuel restrictions.
Scores of Indian trucks have been stranded at a key border checkpost for almost a week, halting fuel and other supplies, following protests by ethnic minorities over the Himalayan nation’s new constitution.
K.P. Oli, chief of the ruling UML party, said the Indian government, rather than protesters on the border, was responsible for the blockade, in an unofficial protest against Nepal’s adoption of the constitution on September 20.
“India is saying those people (protesters) are in no man’s land, they are blocking the roads so (Indian trucks) are not being able to supply, that’s not true,” Oli told AFP in an interview.
Public anger is mounting over New Delhi’s perceived meddling in Nepal’s internal affairs. India, which has criticised Kathmandu’s handling of the constitution, has denied being behind the blockade and urged dialogue with the protesters to end the stand-off.
Nepal, which imports all its fuel from India, announced a three-day ban on buying fuel for private vehicles from Thursday, as the country faces a looming shortage and consumers keep up long queues at petrol stations.
Nepal began rationing supplies nationwide on Monday, while drivers have only been allowed on the roads on alternate days since Sunday.
“There is no gas, no vegetable supplies, no fuel for vehicles, no fuel for airlines, and life is about frozen,” Oli said.
“We don’t want this type of friendship.”
“India should not violate the treaties and agreements between our two countries, one. Second, India shouldn’t undermine and violate the international norms and rights of the landlocked countries in general.”
More than 40 people have been killed in clashes between police and protesters representing ethnic minorities who say a new federal structure laid out in the constitution will leave them under-represented in the national parliament.
New Delhi, fearing instability on the border, has criticised Nepal for rushing the constitution rather than resolving the concerns of the minorities, many of whom have relatives living in India.
Oli is seen as the top candidate when parliament votes on a new prime minister to head the government in coming weeks in the wake of the constitution’s adoption.
His comments signify a stronger stand against India which has traditionally exerted significant political influence in Nepal.
As oil and other trucks remain stranded at the key import hub, officials say cargo movement through other border checkpoints has also declined sharply since last week.
With anger mounting against New Delhi, Nepal’s cable operators said on Tuesday they were suspending Indian television channels.
The new constitution, Nepal’s first to be drawn up by elected representatives, is the final stage in a peace process that began when Maoist rebels laid down their arms in 2006 after a decade-long insurgency.
Work on the new constitution began in 2008 after the Maoists won parliamentary elections and abolished the monarchy. But power-sharing squabbles between parties stymied progress.
Lawmakers finally reached agreement in June this year, spurred by a massive earthquake two months earlier that killed nearly 8,900 people and left half a million people homeless. –AFP