Nepalese police break up protests against US-funded infrastructure projects

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KATHMANDU, Feb 16 (Reuters) – Nepalese police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters opposing a U.S.-funded infrastructure program, officials said on Wednesday.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a US government aid agency, agreed in 2017 to provide $500 million in grants to fund a power transmission line and road improvement project in Nepal.

The funds do not need to be repaid, and Washington says they come with no strings attached. But opponents say the deal would undermine local laws and Nepal’s sovereignty because Nepal would not have sufficient control over the projects’ board.

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The main political parties, including those forming the ruling coalition, are divided on whether to accept the money.

Officials said they used minimal force to disperse about 3,000 protesters from small communist factions, divided into groups.

“We used minimal force to prevent the protesters from marching on parliament,” police spokesman Bishnu Kumar KC told Reuters.

Kathmandu district official Deepak Paudel said 123 activists were arrested and nine police officers injured in the melee. “There are no reports of serious injuries among protesters,” he said.

Opponents of the MCC grant deal say the funds are not in the interest of Nepal.

“It undermines our national interest, our sovereignty, our well-being…and needs to be changed before it is accepted,” said Narayan Kaji Shrestha, a senior leader of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center) and a major ally of the government. Five-Part Power Alliance. led by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba.

Prakash Sharan Mahat, a spokesman for the centrist Nepali Congress Deuba party, said the MCC grant was “for the economic development of Nepal and not against the national interest”.

US officials did not provide immediate comment. The US Embassy website states: “The $500 million is a grant, with no strings attached, no interest rates and no hidden covenants. All Nepal needs to do is pledge to spend the money, transparently, on the projects that have been agreed upon.”

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Reporting by Gopal Sharma Editing by Peter Graff

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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