Police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters objecting to a United States-funded infrastructure programme in Nepal, officials have said.
The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a US government aid agency, agreed in 2017 to provide $500m in grants to fund an electricity transmission line and road improvement project in Nepal.
The proposal was scheduled to be presented in Parliament for approval, but the debate was postponed because of disagreements among political parties.
There has been growing opposition to the grant, mainly led by Communist parties, who say the grant comes with conditions that are not acceptable.
Two of the Communist parties are part of the coalition government. They claim the conditions in the grant agreement will override Nepal’s laws and damage the country’s sovereignty. They say it is part of Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy, which has military components that could bring US soldiers to Nepal.
US officials have spoken to Nepalese leaders recently to assure that the grant concerns only Nepal’s development.
A few hundred protesters managed to push through the thick lines of riot police, who used bamboo batons and fired tear gas.
Police also used water cannon on the protesters, who pelted them with stones. Roads leading to the parliament buildings were blocked for hours because of the clashes.
A general strike called by the protesters also shut down schools and disrupted transport in the country.
Police in Kathmandu detained dozens of protesters who tried to block traffic and attempted to set a taxi on fire.
Officials said they used minimum force to disperse about 3,000 protesters near parliament in Kathmandu.
“We have used minimum force to stop protesters from marching on parliament,” police spokesman Bishnu Kumar KC told the news agency Reuters.
Indian daily the Hindustan Times reported on Tuesday that Washington believes that China is behind a disinformation campaign against the pact.
“Should outside influence and corruption cause parliament not to ratify, it would be deeply concerning for the US, and a loss for the people of Nepal,” the paper quoted a US State Department spokesperson as saying.
#Nepal #Youth wasted by राप्रपा and @CenterCpn and other parties keen to further their political interests over #NationalInterest.
If protest was genuine, they should have held open forum technical debates with experts from all the parties on #MCC in Nepal. https://t.co/w0ePOrkncq
— Navita Srikant (@NavitaSrikant) February 16, 2022
Prakash Sharan Mahat, a spokesman of the governing Nepali Congress party, said backtracking from the commitment would erode Nepal’s credibility.
“This grant is expected to help spur the economic growth in Nepal … We will continue to hold dialogue with other coalition partners as well as other political parties to mobilise their support to present the MCC Compact in the next session of the Parliament,” he said.