23 July 2008

Getting Caught in a Petrol Strike/Riot

So awhile back I had written about our experience getting caught in a petrol stike/riot on our way to Pokhara in Nepal http://mostlyslow.blogspot.com/2008/06/another-quick-update-lin-and-i-got-to.html

The story - there has been a petroluem strike on for the last couple of days. The strikers/paid protesters (500 rupees a day to promote civil unrest for teenage thugs) have been stopping/harassing motorists on the highways and city streets. But they've been letting tourists travel around. Unfortunately for us, yesterday at noon they increased the strike level and bands of youths took over all of the highways while the police more or less left (returning sporadically). Our bus was stopped and three of the youths came on, looked to see we were all foriegners and then left us alone, same for all the other Indian and foreign motorists. The Nepalis on the road weren't so lucky. No serious injuries that I could see, but some cars got smashed pretty throughly.

Interstingly the protesters were very polite and friendly to us, saying Namaste and some of us were even offered weed "for friendship". Anyway after about 9 hours we were finally let go (10PM) but up until 1/2 hour beforehand we though we might be held through the next day - pretty insane! Thankfully we got to Pokhara without further incident, checked into our hotel, got dinner, and went to sleep. Will let you know what we do here, once we've done it ;-)"
That particular stike was regarding a pay hike the transporation workers wanted (the govt. was offering 25% and they wanted 35%) - lots of agitators were taking advantage of the lack of real clarity on whom the govt. actually was, particularly the executive power vaccuum (since the kinghad been deposed and the president had yet to be appointed, and the legislative body recently elected was the equivalent of a constitutional convention, not a parliment).

I've attached short video of the view from the back of our bus. You'll notice two youths actively smashing a car (one quickly gets pulled off) while most of the protestors, military, and victims mull around in a confused and disorganized fashion. My impression was the general confusion of all parties was due to the fact that everyone was in conflict but no one wanted to push things too far (except for the kid on top of the van with the stick - he seemed seriously imbalanced and the other thugs spent a lot of time trying to keep him in line)

Things are pretty bad in India as regards fuel as well, only this morning there were lines and a traffic jam at the gas station outside our apartment. There have also been strikes, but the rule of law is a bit stronger here and India is a much richer country, so thus far nothing near the magnitude of the Nepali problems.

Very interesting and thankfully not terribly scary (for the most part ;-).

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