Nepal Faces Shortages as Strike Enters Day 12

Nepal's capital faced shortages of fresh food, cooking gas and gasoline as a strike and demonstrations to demand the king restore democracy shut down the city and dragged into its 12th day Sunday.

Hundreds of protesters marched on the outskirts of Katmandu, waving banners and chanting, "We won't rest until democracy is restored. We fight for our freedom."

Police kept close watch but did not intervene, saying they had orders to keep protesters out of the capital, where demonstrations were banned.

Daily protests have accompanied the strike, many ending in clashes with security forces who have shot dead four people. The protests are the worst unrest King Gyanendra has faced since he dismissed the government and seized power 14 months ago.

In the heart of the city, an Associated Press reporter saw police arrest about 20 journalists protesting to demand more press freedoms and the release of dozens of reporters detained since Gyanendra seized power. At least a dozen journalists were detained in a similar protest Saturday.

Some two dozen hotel, restaurant and trekking agency owners also protested in Thamel, a Katmandu suburb popular with tourists, and four were arrested.

The strike has forced trucks off the highways, the only means of transporting goods and supplies in this Himalayan nation with no train tracks. Only a handful of stores remained open Sunday.

Vendors said fresh green vegetables were unavailable and they were running out of the potatoes and onions they had in storage.

"We have not had a single truck come in the past 11 days. Whatever we are selling was what we had in stock, or grown locally in Katmandu," said Raj Maharjan, who was selling a few bundles of green onion at the Baneswor vegetable market.

Vegetable prices have risen fivefold, chicken and mutton prices have doubled, and gas for cooking was scarce.

Only a few vehicles were plying the streets, and the bus station in the city center was also deserted.

"We have not had any buses leave on long distance routes. Thousands of passengers have been stranded, but we are not sure when the strike will end," said Ramesh Gurung, a bus driver who was playing cards with fellow drivers.

"I have only a little money left and no relatives in Katmandu. I need to get home to Butwal [in south Nepal] but I have been stuck away from my family," said Madhav Silwal, a milk farmer.

The Civil Aviation Authority said most domestic and international flights were taking off on schedule. However, the majority of the population cannot afford air tickets.

Thousands of pro-democracy protesters have demonstrated every day in Katmandu and other major cities and towns since Nepal's seven main opposition parties called the general strike on April 6.

The government has accused Maoist rebels of inciting the clashes. The leader of the rebels' student wing acknowledged Sunday that its members have participated in protests but denied they have provoked the violence.

"We have openly come out to the streets in the protests since April 6. It is our right ... It is not infiltration as claimed by the regime," said Lekhnath Newpane, leader of the All Nepal National Free Student Union Revolutionary.

The king says he took power to restore political order and end the communist insurgency, which has left nearly 13,000 people dead over the past decade.

The opposition parties decided late Friday to continue with the strike and protests after Gyanendra offered few concessions in a message delivered to mark Nepal's New Year.