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Pro-Maoist strike shuts down Nepal schools

Kathmandu, Dec. 9 (Reuters): About half-a-million Nepali children stayed home today as schools and colleges in Kathmandu shut down due to a strike called by a pro-Maoist student group demanding private schools be nationalised.

Schools and colleges said they would remain shut at least till Friday, but are hoping that the government will reach a compromise with the students’ union by then.

“The shutdown...hit nearly 500,000 students,” an education ministry official told Reuters.“

The All Nepal National Independent Students’ Union (Revolutionary), which is affiliated to Maoist rebels, is calling on the government to make secondary education free in addition to ending private schooling.

Education is now free only until the primary level, which is up to the fifth grade.

“We want an end to commercialisation of education,” the union said in a statement.

Schools and colleges in the Kathmandu valley, including the capital, remained closed out of fear, since the student group has previously attacked those who defy its strike calls, school teachers said. “We cannot risk being attacked and have asked children not to come to school,” Dil Chandra Bhandari, a teacher at a private school in Kathmandu, told Reuters.

Half of Nepal’s students study at private schools because of perceptions that public schools do not provide quality education. The students’ union is also demanding that the government increase spending on education, which has been allocated barely 17 per cent of impoverished Nepal's annual budget of $1.2 billion for the year to mid-July 2003.

The union also wants the government to withdraw a declaration calling it “terrorist”, a term the authorities have been using for the Maoist rebels and their activists since last year.

The Maoist rebels have been fighting for six years to abolish the country’s constitutional monarchy and install a one-party communist republic.

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