Mosques burn in Nepal as mob vents fury at execution of hostages

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The Independent Online

In front of Sun International Overseas, a company in the north of Kathmandu that sends workers to the Middle East, a 21-year-old student hurled an aquarium full of fish from the balcony of the company building, followed by a fax machine.

In front of Sun International Overseas, a company in the north of Kathmandu that sends workers to the Middle East, a 21-year-old student hurled an aquarium full of fish from the balcony of the company building, followed by a fax machine.

Buddha Lama's brother went to Iraq a year ago for a "high salary", earning 30,000 rupees (£224) per month. "Sending men abroad like this is illegal," Mr Lama said. "What the government should do is rescue all Nepalese people in Iraq."

An indefinite curfew was imposed yesterday in Kathmandu after angry mobs stormed the city's two mosques, vandalised manpower agencies and attacked the offices of Qatar Airways and Gulf Air. Four deaths are unconfirmed but at least three people are known to have died in the violence which erupted after news of the slaughter of 12 Nepalese hostages in Iraq by an Islamic militant group, Ansar al-Sunnah, the largest number of foreign hostages to be killed at one time by insurgents in Iraq.

The dead men, cooks and cleaners for the coalition forces, had gone to the Middle East lured by promises of work from some of Nepal's 500-odd manpower recruitment agencies. The agencies' premises and shops run by Muslims have been main targets of the demonstrators. Every year, the agencies send thousands of Nepalese labourers to the Middle East.

In Nepalgunj, Nepal's western capital, nine houses inhabited by Muslims were burnt down. Crowds of young men, mostly students, chanting, "We don't need this government!" blocked traffic with piles of burning computers, filing cabinets and furniture looted from the agencies. Files of documents, passports and passport photographs littered the street.

Inside the Kashmiri mosque, in the centre of town, the courtyard was strewn with prayer mats, torn books and broken plant pots after 300 men stormed the building. Two fresh graves had been sabotaged, the prayer hall had been set on fire and the crescent on the mosque's dome had been bent. The imam sat quietly in a bare room, locked in from the outside. The window had been smashed.

The mosque's caretaker, a Hindu, stood in the imam's destroyed office and told how the mob had broken down the door of a room where the imam had been sheltering and pulled him out. "The more sensitive students were saying, 'Don't touch him', and the others said 'Kill him'," he said. "In the end they left him alone. He can't go outside the mosque without being beaten. The army came two hours later to help us."

Police fired in the air and used tear gas to disperse mobs outside the Jammi Mosque, about 200 metres away. Crowds had begun storming the mosque at dawn. But no police or army were present when demonstrators sacked the offices of Kantipur Publications, a leading media organisation.

Tourists in Kathmandu were told to remain in their hotels. Aurora Martinez, from Spain, said: "We tried to go to the old city and somebody told us the government had declared a curfew. We were worried about coming to Nepal because we expected trouble with the Maoists but we had already booked our tickets so we came anyway." All flights out of Nepal were cancelled.

The demonstrators said they wanted compensation for the families of the murdered hostages, and called for the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister to resign. The government has been heavily criticised for not sending a delegation to Iraq to negotiate the hostages' release, relying instead on the Nepalese ambassadors to Qatar and Pakistan to make appeals to the captors through Iraqi clerics.

More than 700,000 Nepalese are believed to work outside Nepal, 2,000 of them in Iraq. There are no serving British Gurkhas in Iraq but an estimated 5,000 retired soldiers are working as security guards. The government announced a national day of mourning today and pledged 1m rupees in compensation to the families of each hostage. It said it will evacuate Nepalese workers still in Iraq.

The Prime Minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, said: "I urge everyone to have patience, show tolerance and unity at this hour of grief." Barely a week ago, Maoist rebels lifted a six-day road blockade of Kathmandu.

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