March for religious tolerance in Nepal

Published September 6, 2004

KATHMANDU, Sept 5: Some 3,000 people from various religious groups in Nepal took advantage of the relaxation of a curfew to stage a peace march through the streets of the Nepalese capital on Sunday, organizers said.

Those taking part in the procession called for religious tolerance following rioting directed at Muslim targets in response to the grisly killing of 12 Nepalese hostages in Iraq, said one organiser, Hemanta Sharma.

"The peace marchers included Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists," Sharma said. Demonstrators carried placards with slogans reading "Religious tolerance and national unity are Nepal's present need," witnesses said.

A group of people from various walks of life including artists, journalists, members of civil society and human rights activists separately held a peace meeting in the capital, lighting candles and praying for harmony.

The events were held after the Nepalese government further eased a curfew imposed last week to quell the rioting. After initially announcing a 10-hour let-up in the curfew to allow people to buy food and get on with their normal business, the home ministry later extended it for another five hours until 10:00 pm. Authorities had relaxed the curfew for eight hours on Saturday.

"During the curfew period in the two cities, there were no reports of violence from any quarters," a police spokesman said. The curfew has been in place in Kathmandu and Lalitpur on the southern outskirts of the capital since Wednesday to stop angry mobs attacking mosques and Muslim businesses.

Armed police and soldiers patrolled the streets of Kathmandu while security was heightened in sensitive areas of the capital. Nepal's king, the prime minister and religious leaders also appealed for restraint.

Nepal, the world's only officially Hindu state where 86 per cent of the population is Hindu, has experienced little of the inter-religious violence that has scarred neighbouring India. Muslims account for around four percent of the 27 million population. -AFP

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