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Life returning to normal in Nepal's capital after crippling strike ends

Life returning to normal in Nepal's capital after crippling strike ends

Trucks began transporting gasoline to the fuel-starved Nepalese capital Friday along with much-needed food and other supplies after ethnic-rights groups in southern Nepal ended a paralyzing strike, authorities said.
Prithvi highway, the main route to Katmandu that had been almost deserted for two weeks during the strike, was crowded with buses, trucks and cars.
Hundreds of vehicles passed through Thankot, the gateway to Katmandu, on Friday morning, the highway patrol said in a statement, saying there were no reports of any trouble along the route.
Supplies of fuel and other goods had been blocked since Feb. 13 when ethnic-rights groups imposed a general strike in southern Nepal and launched protests that often turned violent, leaving at least five people dead.
The strike caused severe shortages and price increases in the capital, Katmandu. Last week, armed police escorted a few dozen trucks of fuel into the city, but the supply was hardly enough and thousands of vehicles lined up for hours for fuel rations.
The government and the groups reached an agreement Thursday to establish autonomous regions in the Himalayan region, prompting an end to the strike and protests.
By Friday, Ratnaraj Pandey, chief government administrator at Chitwan district in southern Nepal, said passengers stranded for days were able to board buses and cars and drive to Katmandu. Trucks loaded with fruits and vegetables were also back on the highways.
Bhola Siwakoti, chief official in neighboring Parsa district, said schools and markets opened after being shuttered for two weeks.
He said there were few celebratory marches in the city of Birgunj after a curfew imposed for days was lifted Friday. Most goods imported from India have to pass through Birgunj.
Minority groups have organized strikes, transportation shutdowns and demonstrations in the south since last year to demand greater recognition of their rights. At least 90 people have died in the often-violent protests since they began last year.
The government and the minority groups signed the eight-point agreement Thursday after a week of negotiations, Home Minister Krishna Sitaula said.
The agreement provides for the creation of autonomous regions with decision-making powers. Details, however, will be worked out after the election of a special Constituent Assembly on April 10, he said.
Minority groups also will be guaranteed seats in the assembly, and they will be recruited for the national army and other government jobs in proportion to their population, Sitaula said.
The points were among the key demands of the ethnic groups, which say their region has been neglected in favor of the more-populated north.
The groups said they had achieved their goals, but warned the government must be sincere in implementing the agreement.
"This has guaranteed there will be autonomy for the people of southern Nepal," said Upendra Yadav of the Tarai Democratic Madeshi Forum, a group leading the protests. "If we don't get our rights, we will fight again and it will be severe ... we can only hope that we will not have to fight again for our rights."
The protests had threatened to disrupt the election for the Constituent Assembly, which is to rewrite the constitution and decide the nation's future political system.