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Gurkhas strike for new state

By Subir Bhaumik in Calcutta, BBC World Service, Friday 5 February 1999, published at 10:58 GMT

A 48-hour strike called by a group of eight regional parties affected life in India's eastern tea-producing Darjeeling region on Friday.

Work in the tea gardens and the movement of public and private transport in the hill region wound down as the strike caught hold.

The strike was called to press for a separate state for Nepali-speaking Gurkhas in the Darjeeling region.

Police say sporadic violence between the supporters of the strike and those opposed has flared up in a few places in the Darjeeling region.

Separation calls

The renewed demand for a separate Gurkha state in the Himalayan tea-producing region has already generated much concern in the area.

The strike is meant to further the demand for a separate Gurkha state to be created by the separation of Darjeeling from the state of West Bengal.

And the eight parties are also demanding the resignation of the Darjeeling Hill Council chairman, Subhas Ghishing, before the forthcoming council elections in March.

A spokesman for the eight-party group told the BBC that no free and fair elections can be held if Mr Ghishing and his Gurkha National Liberation Front, or GNLF party, remains at the helm of the council's administration.

The spokesman said that an impartial caretaker administration should be entrusted the responsibility to conduct the elections to the Darjeeling Hill Council.

Observers say that though the eight parties opposed to Mr Ghishing demand a separate Gurkha state, their real aim is to mobilise the Gorkhas to demand that Mr Ghishing be ousted.

The Gurkha National Liberation Front led an agitation demanding a separate Gurkha state for eight years in the 1980s before it finally settled for a Hill Council arrangement and retained power in the area.