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4 People Die at Nepal Movie Protest

December 27, 2000

KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) _ Protesters angry about alleged anti-Nepal comments by South Asia’s latest movie heartthrob rushed the streets of Nepal’s capital on Wednesday, setting tires and trees ablaze and virtually shutting down the city.

A day after earlier rioting left four people dead, public transportation was halted in Katmandu, and only police, firefighters and ambulances were allowed out on the smoke-filled streets to put out the tire and tree fires. Indian businesses were vandalized, and windows at The State Bank of India were smashed.

Schools, businesses and offices were closed as the demonstrators, many university students, spilled out into the streets setting fires. There were no reported injuries.

The rioting here began a day earlier, when a rumor swept through southern Nepalese towns that Indian film star Hrithik Roshan had told an interviewer that he hated Nepal and its people.

Roshan vehemently denied making such comments, and the only television network that has carried an interview with the hugely popular star backed him up. Nevertheless, the unrest spread.

Communication Minister Jaya Prakash Gupta said the government had asked movie theaters across Nepal to stop screening Roshan films to prevent further attacks. Cable operators also cut Indian television channels, fearing violence.

Roshan denied ever making any comments against Nepal and claimed competitors are trying to ruin his reputation.

``It is really astonishing that people can stoop down to such mischievous deeds to tarnish my image,″ he was quoted as saying by The Times of India newspaper.

About 180 people were injured in Tuesday’s rioting, including 30 police officers who tried to stop a crowd of 5,000 protesters from tearing down a movie theater where Roshan’s latest film, ``Mission Kashmir,″ was being shown.

Police initially fired into the air, but when the crowd began to pelt them with stones, they fired into the crowd. Among the dead was a 12-year-old school girl who was hit by a stray bullet as she sat in her room reading, police said.

None of the demonstrators in Katmandu on Wednesday said they knew anyone who had actually seen the supposed remarks Roshan made.

``We are protesting since the statement hurt the sentiments of the Nepalese and our pride,″ said demonstrator Ramesh Shreshta, who conceded he had not seen the alleged interview. He and others shrugged off Roshan’s denials, shouting ``Down with Hrithik, down with Indian elements!″

Indian film stars are typically popular in Nepal, where most theaters show Hindi-language movies. However, there are simmering anti-India sentiments in Nepal, where many feel the regional power has a superior attitude toward its landlocked Himalayan neighbor, which is dependent on the larger country for many of its economic needs.