By Gopal Sharma
KATHMANDU (Reuters) – Nepal police used teargas and water cannon to disperse protesters objecting to a U.S.-funded infrastructure programme, officials said on Wednesday.
The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a U.S. government aid agency, agreed in 2017 to provide $500 million in grants to fund an electricity transmission line and road improvement project in Nepal.
The funds do not need to be repaid, and Washington says they come with no strings. But opponents say that the agreement would undermine local laws and Nepal’s sovereignty, as Nepal would not have sufficient oversight over the board directing projects.
Major political parties, including those forming the ruling coalition, are divided over whether to accept the money.
Officials said they used minimum force to disperse about 3,000 protesters from small communist factions, split into groups.
“We have used minimum force to stop protesters from marching on parliament,” police spokesman Bishnu Kumar K.C. told Reuters.
Kathmandu district official Deepak Paudel said 123 activists had been detained and nine police personnel injured in the melee. “There is no report of major injuries among the protesters,” he said.
Opponents of the MCC grant agreement say the funds are not in the interest of Nepal.
“It undermines our national interest, sovereignty, welfare … and must be amended before it is accepted,” said Narayan Kaji Shrestha, a senior leader of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) and a major ally in the five-party ruling alliance headed by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba.
Prakash Sharan Mahat, a spokesman for Deuba’s centrist Nepali Congress party, said the MCC grant was “for Nepal’s economic development and not against the national interest”.
U.S. officials did not provide immediate comment. The U.S. embassy website says: “The $500 million is a grant, with no strings attached, no interest rates, and no hidden clauses. All Nepal has to do is commit to spend the money, transparently, for the projects that have been agreed upon.”
(Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Editing by Peter Graff)