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Riots and Curfew in Kathmandu as residents target Manpower Companies

mAt | 05.09.2004 07:05 | Analysis | Repression | Social Struggles | Cambridge

The city of Kathmandu, NEPAL, has been under curfew for the past four days following riots which occurred in the aftermath of the killing of twelve Nepali workers taken hostage in Iraq. Both the government and the manpower company responsible for sending them have been held to severe obloquy after it was revealed that each of the twelve believed they were going to work on projects in Jordan or Oman.

Doubtless most of you who have been reading the newspapers or
watching the telly at home have heard of the death of twelve Nepali workers
who were taken hostage by an Islamic splinter group a couple of weeks ago
in Iraq. However, the full story of the case is much more sinister than
even the act itself would suggest, a fact which led many of the residents
of Kathmandu valley (where I am currently staying) out onto the streets
last Wednesday, where amidst a near-universally observed general strike,
one of the fiercest riots the city has seen for some time raged. Hundereds
of vehicles were burned, one of the city's mosques was razed to the ground,
and countless shops and offices (including those of Kantipur television,
one of Nepal's main TV stations) were attacked and looted. Two people died
when the army regained control of the city by opening fire on the crowds.

Since that one day of craziness (which our kindly hosts refused to
let us witness first-hand, although pillars of smoke from burning tyres
were visible from our bedroom window) there have been several of fairly
tense inactivity, with a near-universal curfew broken only by sporadic
bouts of pandemonious vegetable purchasing. Prices have gone through the
roof and most of the produce is overripe or stale. This also comes on
the back of a week-long Maoist blockade of the city which had pretty much
the same economic effect, so for the past three weeks or so the average
valley-dweller has felt the pinch of political developments in his or her

What makes this tragedy so much worse, and what I believe has been
omitted from the reports in the west is the fact that those who were
unfortunate enough to fall victim to the factional conflict raging in Iraq
actually thought they were bound for Jordan. Much spleen has therefore been
vented not only against Islam in general (indicative of an ethnic conflict
against which it is hard if not futile for us to reason) but the manpower
companies responsible for duping these poor people for their own profits.
Consequently most of the offices of Kathmandu based manpower companies have
also been trashed, as I see it, with good reason. Worthwhile jobs, which
here are simply those that allow people to maintian a level of subsistence,
are hard to come by in Nepal, and many locals are keen to travel elsewhere
to earn a family wage. The UK, US and Australia are the most popular
destinations of choice, being the richest, but they are also all savagely
buttressed against influxes of such would-be economic migrants. So Quatar,
Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and other Middle Eastern countries are the more
realistic options for the many impoverished and unemployed who are looking
for work. However, even most Nepalis, desperate as they are, would stop
short of going to a war-zone to support their family, as they would
doubtless prefer a life of marginal agriculture and street-begging to eke
out their existences here than to put themselves in such phenomenal danger.
But the manpower companies stand to make huge profits out of sending these
people to Iraq, precisely because of how dangerous the situation there now
is. This especially if they are paying them the same wages as they would
were they going to some equally exploitative but far safer destination such
as Jordan.

So this is yet another tragedy in which the selfish profiteering of a
multinational corporation and the complicity of the government to whom it
is supposedy accountable had no small part. Once again, those who suffered
its consequences the most were those who were already suffering the
greatest economic grievances. Obviously the act itself was carried out by
religious bigots, who were small-minded enough to see their innocent
victims as part of a wider dogmatic conspiracy against them, but without
the money-minded attitude of those who stood to gain financially by sending
these impoverished people to their deaths, it would easily have been

For further information and some riot porn, check out:

lotsa love, mAt

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Display the following 2 comments

  1. A less anti-iraq resistance (islamic?) article — Sharon
  2. Manpower???? — jim