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Page last updated at 15:02 GMT, Thursday, 6 May 2010 16:02 UK

Tourists caught up in Nepal Maoist strike

By Joanna Jolly
BBC News, Kathmandu

Frankie Pollick (left) and  Kathy Naunton
Nepal relies heavily on tourism

Thousands of international tourists have found themselves caught up in the nationwide strike called by Nepal's Maoist party.

The forced closure of restaurants and shops since Sunday has meant that many have been confined to their hotels.

Tourism is an important industry for Nepal, which received more half a million visitors last year.

The Maoists say the government has no popular support and that Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal should stand down.

Threatened

"Food is only available in the hotel so on the streets there is really nothing open," said Kathy Naunton, who is visiting from Australia.

Closed shop in Kathmandu
Many Kathmandu businesses have indefinitely closed down

"Even at the hotel we can eat only between during certain hours."

The usually crowded and busy tourist sector of Kathmandu, Thamel, has been closed down with shops only opening for a brief period between 1800 local time (1215GMT) and 2000 (1415 GMT).

Hotel and restaurant owners say that Maoist supporters have threatened them, telling them to remain shut.

"They come to the gate and say don't open until late and don't cater food for foreigners," says adventure travel manager Rajendra Bajgain.

On Tuesday, Maoists supporters vandalised one restaurant in Thamel because it remained open after 2000 local time.

As well as being confined to hotels, tourists are finding it hard to move around the country because of Maoist roadblocks.

The Nepal Tourism Board has provided a shuttle bus to ferry tourists to and from the airport, but travelling in and out of Kathmandu has become difficult.

"We had to rescue tourists in some cases," said Subash Nirola, Senior Director of the Nepal Tourism Board.

Ms Naunton and her companion Frankie Pollick spent eight hours travelling from the jungle resort of Chitwan to Kathmandu by private car.

"Our car was stopped by Maoists two to three times," said Ms Pollick.

Many tourists come to trek in the Himalayas, but adventure and cultural tourism is also popular.

The tourism sector is worried that this strike could damage Nepal's image as a safe and easy holiday location.



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