KATHMANDU, Mar 19, (AFP): Highways in Nepal were near-deserted Sunday and gasoline shortages loomed in the Kathmandu Valley as a transport blockade called by Maoist rebels hobbled the nation for the sixth straight day, business owners said.
Most of the private gasoline stations in the valley had "No Petrol" signs on their pumps and motorists instead queued at army and police gas stations that are supplying fuel to civilians.
The rebels ordered all vehicles off roads in and out of the capital, district headquarters and other towns in a bid to oust King Gyanendra, who sacked the government and seized direct control a year ago.
Officials at the Nepal Petroleum Dealers Association said the blockade had drastically cut supplies to the capital.
"Due to the blockade, the shortage of fuel is evident now," said a dealer, who asked not to be named. "We have gone to ask for petroleum products but the government is not supplying us."
He said gasoline and diesel supplies have been the worst hit but supplies of kerosene, used widely as a cooking fuel, were also running short.
"Kathmandu consumes 250,000 litres of petrol (gasoline and diesel) daily but since the blockade started the government has supplied only 120,000 litres over the past five days," the official said.
However the Nepal Oil Corporation said it had adequate stocks of petroleum products and there was no need to panic.
"The blockade has somewhat affected our regular supply but we have proper stocks," an oil corporation official said on condition of anonymity.
The official, however, did not disclose how long the stocks would last.
"Distribution of fuel cannot remain aloof from the impact of the blockade as no vehicles are running on the highways. Some of the tankers are still stranded on the highways," he said.
Political parties ousted by Gyanendra have urged the rebels, with whom they have a loose alliance, to call off the blockade.
Since the Maoists began their "people's war" in 1996, some 12,500 people have been killed.