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Nepal anger smoulders

Kathmandu, Sept. 2 (Agencies): Protests against the killing of 12 Nepalis by Iraqi militants spread to western Nepal, forcing the authorities to impose curfew in Butawal as the Himalayan kingdom observed a day of national mourning for the slain hostages.

Two persons died in police firing yesterday during protests in Kathmandu. Today, curfew was relaxed in the capital for three-and-a-half hours in the morning and two hours in the evening. The home ministry said the situation in the capital was calm and quiet.

The government cancelled the licence of the agency which had sent the 12 Nepalis to Iraq through “illegal channels”. It also increased the insurance for those seeking overseas employment from 1 lakh rupees to 10 lakh rupees per person, minister of state for labour and transport Raghuji Panta said.

Quoting Panta, the state-run Radio Nepal said the government also plans to cancel the licences of 109 agencies that deal in “illegal businesses”.

The national flag flew at half-mast and government offices, schools, colleges and businesses remained closed in Kathmandu today. Public Transport stayed off the roads and radio and TV stations played patriotic songs as army and paramilitary forces patrolled the streets of the capital.

In Butawal, which is in Rupandehi district, hundreds tried to block the roads by burning tyres to protest against the killing of the hostages. One person was injured in police firing, home ministry spokesman Gopendra Bahadur Pandey said. Authorities clamped curfew in tense Butawal as a precautionary measure, officials said.

Kathmandu’s international airport was open, but several airlines including the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), suspended flights after protesters ransacked several Arab airlines yesterday. Airport officials said international flights from Bhutan, India and Thailand arrived and passengers were escorted by police in buses to the city centre.

US secretary of state Colin Powell telephoned Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba to offer condolences, the US embassy said.

“This latest murder of civilians engaged in helping with Iraq’s reconstruction by a militant group demonstrates the contempt these armed groups have for the Iraqi people,” the embassy said in a statement.

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