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Medicine shortage hits Nepal as Maoist shutdown enters 5th day.

KATHMANDU, May 6 Kyodo

Nepal is facing an acute shortage of essential medicine as an indefinite Maoist shutdown of the country has prevented imports of fresh supplies, an official said Thursday.

''There is critical shortage of medicine across the country,'' said Kedarnarsingh K.C., chief of the Nepal Medical Council, the umbrella body of doctors in the country.

''Oxygen cylinders and equipment essential for conducting surgeries are in short supply. If the shutdown continues for two more days, hospitals will no longer be able to conduct surgeries or run Intensive Care Units,'' he told Kyodo News.

Nepal produces only 30 percent of the medicine it needs, and imports the rest from India. Pharmacies are already turning back patients asking for saline bottles, insulin and emergency medicine needed for heart and kidney ailments.

Due to the unavailability of transport, hospitals in Kathmandu are reporting a drop in number of patient arrivals by as much as 60 percent. The capital's ambulance service, overstretched even during normal times, is no position to ferry all needy patients to hospital.

Meanwhile, Kathmandu has also run short of fresh vegetable and fruit supplies.

The last time vegetable and fruit supplies entered the city was on May 1, the day before the indefinite general strike began. But all 275 tons of vegetables that arrived that day have been consumed.

Until Wednesday, customers were purchasing even stale and partly rotten vegetables and fruits at triple the normal price. But on Thursday, even rotten vegetables were in short supply.

The indefinite shutdown has been enforced by the Maoists demanding that Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal step down to pave way for the formation of a new government led by Maoist leader Prachanda.

The ruling political parties refuse to do so unless the former Maoist rebels agree to disband their semi-militant youth wing, return property seized during and after their insurgency that ended in 2006, agree on a plan to settle the future of their combatants and agree on a plan to finalize a new constitution.

While thousands of Maoist supporters bused in from neighboring districts retained control of Kathmandu's streets Thursday, the city's residents have not participated in the demonstrations, indicating their apathy to the Maoist demand.

If history is any indication, no attempt at regime change has succeeded in Nepal without the widespread participation of Kathmandu's residents.

By the fifth day of the general strike, the Maoists have drawn criticism from commoners and newspapers alike.

''This is ridiculous. A country cannot be held hostage just for the prime ministerial ambition of one man,'' said Dhurba Koirala, who runs a financial cooperative in Kathmandu. ''If the shutdown was against an autocratic regime, it would have legitimacy. But the current government is neither autocratic nor extra-constitutional.''

Newspapers are also running editorials dismissing the legitimacy of the Maoist show of force and terming it just an attempt to hoist one individual to the helm of government.

''The attempt by the Maoists to use the shutdown as a ladder to the government has made life of common citizens very difficult,'' read the editorial of the influential Nagarik daily.

''If the Maoist party is really fighting for the poorest and marginalized Nepalese, it must immediately call off the strike that is affecting the same people the most,'' the editorial added.

Patience among Kathmandu residents is running out as they begin to be affected by dwindling supplies, and days of staying at home has left them wondering how long the shutdown will last.

According to newspaper reports, locals decrying the shutdown have clashed with Maoist supporters in various districts.

The Federation of Nepalese Commerce and Industries has announced it will hold ''peace rallies'' in Kathmandu and other districts to demand the shutdown end, past agreements of the peace process be respected and parties arrive at an agreement to end the deadlock.

Nepal's Maoists fought a decade-long war against state forces until they entered a peace process in 2006. They were elected as the largest party in a special assembly elected in 2008 and their leader Prachanda led a coalition government until May last year when the government crumbled over his order to sack the country's army chief.

Nepal's peace process has remained deadlocked since then with the Maoists attempting to get back to power.

Two key tasks of the peace process -- settling the future of over 19,000 Maoist former combatants and promulgating a new constitution -- have been overshadowed by the power struggle. The parties have until May 28 to complete these tasks.
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Publication:Asian Political News
Date:May 10, 2010
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