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Despite End of Maoist Strike Nepal's Crisis Continues

A group of young travelers on Lazimpat road in Kathmandu, 08 May 2010

Nepal's Maoists have lifted a general strike that crippled commerce for a week in the Himalayan nation. Life on the streets began returning to normal Saturday, but the political crisis enveloping the country is far from over.

The shutters came up on street-front shops of Nepal's capital Saturday.

Nepal's business community estimates the forced shutdown cost the country's already weak economy about one quarter of a billion dollars.

Tourism is the country's major industry, heavily dependent on the stream of foreign visitors.

That stream has been reduced to a trickle. Airport officials say during the strike period, about 400 visitors arrived each day, while 1,500 departed. And tour bookings stopped completely when word of the strike spread internationally.

Mary Pant runs a crafts shop 50 meters in front of a first-rate hotel. The area is usually crammed with tourists. After the week-long hiatus, the foot traffic is still scant.

"It was a big problem. It was a tough time staying at home. It depends on the political situation. If it's nice, we'll get the tourists. If not, it'll stay on like this," she said.

Traveler Fred Nolte, from the U.S. state of Maine, arrived overland from India with an adventure tour group, which, he says, is taking in stride the unusual experience. The visitors rode across Nepal as the Maoist strike began to turn violent.

"They were allowing the tourist vehicles to get through. So we really didn't have any problem although another one of the trucks with another party did get one of their windows broke," he said.

Ganga Rai
Ganga Rai

At the Sagarmatha Tea House on the main Lazimpat road, proprietor Ganga Rai laments what he regards as selfishness across the political spectrum for plunging his country back into crisis.

"They're thinking about taking over power, taking over positions. That's not good for them, that's not good for us too, for the Nepali people, for Nepal, also," said Rai.

The Maoists say their street protests will continue until Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal resigns and a list of other demands are met.

Some of Mr. Nepal's political allies, in a joint statement, are calling the former rebels' demands "unconstitutional and ludicrous."

Local news reports quote the embattled leader as expressing his appreciation to the Maoists for ending the strike, but giving no indication he will quickly heed their demand to resign.