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Official warns Nepal will run out of money in less than a month unless new budget is approved

Kathmandu, October 28, 2010
By Binaj Gurubacharya, AP via Yahoo

Nepal's government will run out of money next month if parliament does not approve the annual budget, unable to pay police and school teachers and forcing hospitals to close, a finance official warned Thursday.
The budget was supposed to be approved by mid-July but a political stalemate in which parliament has been unable to agree on a prime minister has delayed the proceedings.
An interim budget was approved to allow the government to pay workers and run day-to-day activities for four months, but that expires Nov. 16.
"After mid-November we will not be able to pay any salaries to government employees," said Keshav Acharya, adviser to the finance minister.
Foreign workers in Nepal's diplomatic missions abroad will not be paid, and government hospitals will be forced to shut down services. There will be no free medicine for the poor, Acharya said.
Delivery of food by government agencies to remote mountain villages would be halted, he said. The government also will not be able to pay for fuel for vehicles, utility bills or rent. Projects to construct and repair roads would also be affected.
Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal and his government resigned in June. Since then, parliament has tried 13 times to elect a new prime minister without success. Nepal and his Cabinet are running a caretaker administration, attending to little more than the most urgent functions of government.
The prime minister is elected by a majority vote of parliament. However, no party today on its own has enough seats to elect a prime minister, and attempts at forging coalition governments have failed so far.
Former insurgents in the Maoist party say they should have the right to form the government since their party holds the most seats, but they have been unable to forge a coalition with the Marxist party or the Nepali Congress Party. The country's peace process brought the Maoists into mainstream politics in 2006.

Nepal to hold fourth vote for new PM

Kathmandu, 3 augustus 2010
AFP via Yahoo

Nepal's parliament will hold a fourth vote to try to elect a new prime minister, an official said Tuesday, after the last election failed to produce a clear winner.
The next vote will take place on Friday, five weeks after former prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal stood down under pressure from the opposition Maoist party, leaving the country without a functioning government.
The resulting leadership vacuum is causing growing concern about the future of the desperately poor country, which has struggled to recover from a decade-long civil war between Maoist rebels and the state.
The Maoists laid down their arms in 2006, transforming themselves into a political party and winning elections two years later. They say that as the largest party in parliament they should lead the next government.
Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal -- better known as Prachanda or "the fierce one" -- won the highest number of votes in a two-way race Monday against centrist Nepali Congress chief Ram Chandra Poudel.
But he failed to secure the overall majority needed to form a new government and the Maoists will now have to try to win over an alliance of smaller parties before voting takes place again on Friday.
"The rules state that we have to keep doing this until one candidate gets a majority," said Mukunda Sharma, spokesman for the parliament, or Constituent Assembly.
"It is up to the politicians to get us out of this mess, but there seems to be a serious lack of honesty from political parties towards the process."
Nepal's parliament was elected in May 2008 with a two-year mandate to complete the country's post-war peace process and draft a new national constitution.
But it has failed to complete either task, hampered by disagreements between the Maoists and their rivals.
Lawmakers voted on May 31 to extend its term to give them time to complete the constitution and the peace process, but little progress has been made since then.

Nepal's Maoists threaten to block budget

Kathmandu, June 21, 2010
AFP via Yahoo

Nepal's opposition Maoist party threatened Monday to block the annual budget until the prime minister fulfils a pledge to stand down and make way for a new power-sharing government.
Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal agreed on May 28 to resign as part of an 11th-hour deal to persuade the Maoists to vote for an extension of parliament's term and avert a political crisis.
But he remains in office and the Maoists, who have the highest number of seats in parliament, have accused him of betraying the agreement between the three main party leaders.
"We will not accept the government's budget for the coming year unless the government resigns," Maoist spokesman Dinanath Sharma told AFP. "If there is no resignation, there will be no budget."
Parliament was scheduled to begin debating the government's budget proposals this month, but that has been delayed by political wrangling over the shape of the next administration.
The parliament, or Constituent Assembly, was elected in 2008 with a two-year mandate to complete the peace process launched after the 10-year civil war between Maoist rebels and the state, and to draft a new national constitution.
But it failed to complete either task on time, hampered by fierce disagreements between the Maoists and their political rivals.
Its term had been due to end on May 28, leaving the country without a functioning legislature, but lawmakers voted to extend it for another year.

Nepal orders probe into slaughter of rhinos

Kathmandu, June, 14 2010
AP via yahoo; By Binaj Gurubacharya

Nepal's government was investigating the poaching of rhinos in the Himalayan nation after 28 of the endangered animals were killed over the past 11 months, an official said Monday.
Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal and Forest Minister Deepak Bohara summoned conservation officials and the chiefs of police and army Sunday ordering them to come up with a strategy to halt the killings.
The Rhinos are protected by the government and the forests are declared conservation areas. Security forces are tasked with guarding them, however, increased political turmoil in Nepal has meant their redeployment to urban areas.
"Stopping the poaching is a major challenge for us. There is always an increase in poaching of wildlife in the conservation area when there is political problems," said Department of Forest and Wildlife Conservation official Megh Bahadur Pandey.
Indian rhinos are native to northern India and southern Nepal. Only about 200 remained before tough preservation laws began to be stringently enforced in the 20th century. Now there are an estimated 2,500 in the wild, though rhino poaching remains a serious problem.
The last count done in 2008 put the rhino population in Nepal at 435.
The Indian rhino is the second-largest of five living species, about three times the size of a Sumatran at up to 2,700 kilograms, standing 1.8 meters tall and 3.7 meters long.

New US ambassador urges restraint in Nepal

Kathmandu, April 21, 2010
AFP via Yahoo

The new US ambassador to Nepal on Wednesday urged political leaders to show restraint, saying street protests were no substitute for dialogue at a critical stage in the peace process.
Nepal's opposition Maoist party has said it would hold a series of anti-government protests from May 1, as a deadline to complete the country's constitution looms.
Scott DeLisi called on all the political parties to be flexible.
"Large demonstrations always have the potential to become confrontational or be the occasion for provocation," he told journalists in Kathmandu after a meeting with Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
"We urge all parties in the days ahead to show both restraint and good judgement in how they approach their efforts to advance the political process.
"Now, with the end in sight, it would be a shame to see the process break down."
Nepal's lawmakers have until May 28 to complete a new constitution that analysts say is key to ensuring lasting peace after a decade-long civil war between the Maoists and the state that ended in 2006.
Most observers now believe that deadline will not be met.
But it is not clear what will happen after the interim constitution expires on May 28, and there are fears the country could be plunged into a fresh political crisis.
Dahal, who goes by the nom de guerre Prachanda, has repeatedly called for the current government to step down, saying the constitution can only be completed successfully under a new administration.

Nepal promoting gay weddings on Everest via yahoo
April 20, 2010

EVEREST could become the new Brokeback Mountain with Nepal promoting gay weddings on the famous mountain.
Nepal Tourism Minister Sharat Singh Bhandari said the country wants to re-establish tourism and hopes to become the first nation in Asia to allow same-sex marriages, Timesonline reports.
Mr Bhandari said he has already written to the International Conference on Gay & Lesbian Tourism in Boston.
“As the world knows, Nepal is the land of Mount Everest, world’s highest peak and the birth place of Lord Buddha, light of Asia,” the message said.
“I, therefore, would like to take this opportunity to invite and welcome all the sexual and gender minorities from around the world.”
Nepal is also due to host the first Asian Symposium on Gay & Lesbian Tourism in Kathmandu in June.
Up until 2007 homosexuality was classified as a crime, punishable by up to two years in prison.
Gays and lesbians were beaten by police and denounced by Maoist rebels as “a product of capitalism.”
But a same-sex marriage law is working its way through parliament after a Supreme Court ruling in 2008 that ordered the Government to safeguard the rights of "sexual minorities."
And the tourism board is already talking about same-sex weddings on Mt Everest, elephant safaris for gay honeymooners and other specialist activities.

Clashes in Nepal as Maoists step up protest

Kathmandu, 2009-11-04
IANS via Yahoo; by Sudeshna Sarkar

At least a dozen people were injured in clashes with security forces in eastern Nepal and curfew was clamped in another area in the region as the former Maoist guerrillas Wednesday stepped up their protests against the coalition government, amidst fears by the western governments that it would lead to violence and escalated tension. The renewed protests called by the former insurgents since Sunday night turned violent in Sunsari district in the Terai plains as demonstrators fought with riot police, who were deployed in large numbers throughout the country to prevent violence. According to initial reports, eight Maoist protesters and four policemen were hurt in the Sunsari clash while Dhankuta, a hilly district in the east, remained under indefinite curfew for the second day. Dhankuta was the scene of a violent confrontation between the Maoists and the ruling Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) Tuesday with the youth wing of the rebels setting UML supporters' vehicles on fire and the latter retaliating by attacking Maoist offices. With an indefinite curfew enforced by the district administration on one hand and the UML calling an indefinite shutdown, tension continued to simmer in the district.
However, the government indicated it was optimistic about containing the protests that are scheduled to continue till Nov 13. Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal called an emergency meeting of the cabinet Wednesday following which the council of ministers expressed hope that the protests would remain non-violent. The new confidence came after a surprise meeting between the top Maoist leaders and representatives of the ruling parties at former UML deputy prime minister K.P. Oli's residence Tuesday night. Information and Communications Minister Shankar Pokhrel, who is also the spokesman
of the current government, told the media after the cabinet meeting that informal talks had resumed with the ex-insurgents. The reconciliatory attitude of the Maoists was also partly due to the meeting their chief and former prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda had with the envoys of 12 western governments Tuesday, whose expression of concern and warning that the protests would tarnish Nepal's image made the former rebels call off their proposed blockade of the country's only international airport Nov 10. However, as a precautionary measure, the security agencies, including the army, were ordered to be on high alert while hundreds of armed policemen were deployed around government offices Wednesday, when the Maoists began a picket of district administration centres.
But barring the two eastern districts, a carnival mood prevailed among the protesters, who carried musical instruments and occasionally broke out into traditional dance steps. The Maoists are asking for an apology from President Ram Baran Yadav, who caused the collapse of their brief government this year by reinstating the army chief they had sacked. Or, as an option, they are asking for a debate on the president's 'unconstitutional role' in parliament, a demand the government has rejected so far.

Nepal warning over tiger traders

BBC News via Yahoo
October 27, 2009

A conference on tiger conservation in Nepal has begun with a warning that traders and poachers are better organised than conservationists.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick said that the illegal activities of traders and poachers is estimated to be worth over $10bn annually. "That is second only to weapons and drug smuggling," Mr Zoellick said. His warning came as conservationists said that the worldwide population of tigers in the wild is now below 3,500. Mr Zoellick said that poaching is the most urgent and immediate threat to tigers and that illegal trade in their body parts remains highly profitable in China and other Asian countries. He argued that the poaching problem has now become so great that supposedly "secure" reserves across Asia have been wiped out while other species - such as Asiatic lions, snow leopards and clouded leopards have also declined significantly. His comments were backed up by Nepalese Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal and conservationists who said that tigers will become extinct unless the international community unites urgently to find new strategies to ensure their survival. Mr Nepal told the opening of the conference - attended by 200 delegates from 20 countries - that collective action was needed to address the problem. "Global and regional solidarity and collective strategies armed with concrete actions are more necessary now than ever," he said. Tiger hunting is illegal worldwide and the trade in tiger parts is banned under a treaty binding 167 countries, including Nepal. But endangered species continue to attract huge sums of money in China and elsewhere in Asia, with their body parts used in traditional medicines and aphrodisiacs while their skins are used for furniture and decoration. Wildlife experts estimate that a single tiger trades for a maximum of about $1,000 in Nepalese markets, but can fetch at least $10,000 internationally. Experts say that only about 3,200 tigers survive in the wild, down from 100,000 a century ago.

Nepal tuk-tuks on their way out?

By Joanna Jolly
BBC News, Kathmandu

Three-wheeler taxi drivers in Nepal have been staging mass protests since the government's decision last month to phase out their gas-powered vehicles.
The drivers have been conducting a series of strikes and rallies in the capital Kathmandu.
"We launched this protest because we think this decision is unfair," said Ram Kumar Blon, a three-wheeler driver who is co-ordinating the protests. The three-wheeler drivers say they want the government to pay them compensation if they take their vehicles off the streets. Battered three-wheeler taxis hawking for business are a common sight on the streets of Kathmandu. There are around 600 of them, also known as Kathmandu tuk-tuks, in the capital alone. Powered by liquefied petroleum gas, the vehicles act as buses taking up to 15 passengers at a time. They ferry an estimated quarter of a million passengers a day through the narrow and crowded streets of the city, for a charge of around 10 Nepali cents a journey.

'Obsolete technology'
But despite their popularity, the Nepalese government decided in September that it was time to phase out these vehicles and replace them with newer, bigger microbuses. "They're slow moving vehicles so they cause a lot of problems with traffic management," said Sarad Chandra Poudel, director general of the Transport Management Department. "The technology they use is obsolete and it's hard to get spare parts," he said. "So they use parts from other vehicles which is dangerous. "They also use cooking gas which has been subsided by the government for household purposes, not for the three wheelers," he added. Mr Poudel said he believed the new microbuses will be more comfortable and less polluting. But the three-wheeler drivers disagree with his argument. "Three wheelers pollution contributes only 1.5% pollution in the city's total pollution. And if we import micro-buses then it will pollute more than the gas three-wheelers," said driver Ram Kuman Blon. "Also we don't believe that the gas three-wheelers are the reason to slow the traffic because if we bring bigger microbuses, they will be even slower," he said.
The three-wheeler drivers have asked the government to provide compensation for scrapping the three-wheelers as well as subsidising the purchase of new microbuses. So far the government has ruled out providing any compensation, bust says it is considering the protesters' demands. Until a compromise is reached, the already congested streets of Kathmandu are likely to see even more disruption from three-wheeler strikes and protest rallies.

Biogas brings 'green revolution' to rural Nepal

Badrahani, 29 september 2009
AFP Via Yahoo

Nepalese villager Khinu Darai used to have to walk about five kilometres every day to collect firewood so she could cook meals for her family. Then two years ago, she bought a biogas plant under a government scheme to encourage villagers to convert to greener energy -- an event the 30-year-old mother of three says transformed her life. "Biogas is a blessing for my family. These days I don't have to go into the jungle to collect wood," she told AFP outside her simple mud-brick home in the southern village of Badrahani. "It is clean and safe, and we are healthier now as we are not breathing in smoke all the time." In all, 82 households in Badrahani have bought biogas plants at heavily subsidised rates under the scheme, which is funded by the Dutch and German governments.
Biogas is a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide produced by feeding cow dung, human waste and water into an airtight underground tank known as digester and allowing it to decompose.
Environmentalists say biogas has huge potential in Nepal, where nearly 80 percent of the population of 27 million live in rural areas with no electricity, leaving them dependent on firewood for cooking and heating. This means they live in smoke-filled houses, causing respiratory problems, particularly for young children, while the destruction of forests is also a major cause for concern.
Badrahani is situated on the edge of the Chitwan National Park, home to endangered species including the Royal Bengal tiger and one-horned rhino, whose habitat is threatened by villagers chopping down trees for firewood. "Biogas has brought a green energy revolution to the country," said Prakash Lamichhane, head of research at the Biogas Sector Partnership (BSP), the government agency in charge of installing the plants. "We have the capacity to build 1.9 million biogas plants, but we have achieved just 11 percent of our target so far. We still have a long way to go." Over the past two decades, BSP has installed around 210,000 biogas plants at a cost of around 350 dollars each, with the government covering a third of the price. BSP says each plant reduces the country's already low carbon emissions by around 4.7 tonnes a year. "We are helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 987,000 tonnes every year. It is helping us combat climate change," said Lamichhane, chief of the research department. The biogas project has won plaudits as a rare environmental success in a country with one of the world's most polluted capital cities. But BSP research and development officer Mahaboob Siddiki said it had not always proved easy to convert villagers. "Because the gas is produced from cow dung and human waste, villagers thought it was impure, and that it would be shameful to cook food using it," said Siddiki, who has worked on the project since it began 26 years ago. "Several times, we were chased away from some of the villages, but we never gave up," he said, calling the technology a "win-win situation" for villagers and the environment. It is a view shared by Bibhimaya Tamang, a 45-year-old farmer from Badrahani who uses slurry -- a by-product of biogas -- to fertilize her crops, giving her higher yields and more income from the vegetables the family grows.
"Staying in a smoke-filled kitchen for hours was painful. It hurt my eyes and I used to cough a lot while cooking," she told AFP. "Using biogas has been so much better." Sameer Thapa, coordinator of Nepal's Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC), said the country made 600,000 dollars in 2007 by trading a million tonnes of carbon emission reductions from biogas plants. "We have huge potential to benefit from carbon trading as we lessen the use of firewood, which releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere," said Thapa. "Around 80,000 biogas plants are in the process of getting approval for carbon trading by next year." Thapa said the proceeds would be used to install more plants, enabling the government to increase its carbon trading capacity further. "Many developing countries in Asia and Africa have used our expertise to promote biogas, and many others are asking for our help," said the BSP's Lamichhane. "Nepal has always been known as the land of mountains. Now, developing countries are calling us the land of biogas."

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