Strike by Hindus Shuts Down Nepal Town

Katmandu, Nepal - A peaceful strike called by Hindu groups to protest parliament's move to declare Nepal a secular state closed down a southern border town Thursday and threatened to block imports of goods from neighboring India.

Markets, schools and businesses were shut in Birgunj, 100 miles south of the capital, Katmandu.

Birgunj lies on Nepal's border with India and is the main route for goods, supplies and fuel imported from Nepal's southern neighbor. But on Thursday, the town's highways were deserted.

Navin Ghimire, the chief government administrator in the area, said security was beefed up but that there had been no reports of any violence.

Strike organizers said they were protesting a clause in a resolution passed by parliament last week stipulating that Nepal no longer be formally known as a Hindu country.

''Our protest is against Parliament removing Nepal's status as a Hindu nation. We will continue our protest until the decision is reversed,'' said Umesh Patel, a strike organizer and coordinator for the Religion Awareness Front, a body representing several Hindu groups in Birgunj.

There is a feeling of brotherhood among the people because Nepal is a Hindu nation. But parliament has destroyed all that,'' Patel said. ''The decision was neither necessary nor justifiable.''

Nepal's constitution, written in 1990, declared the Himalayan nation a Hindu kingdom and more than 85 percent of the country's 27 million people are Hindus.

Last month, weeks of protests forced King Gyanendra to give up the powers he seized last year, reinstate parliament and appoint Girija Prasad Koirala as the prime minister.