Nepal police clash with devotees defying virus ban for festival

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Kathmandu (AFP)

Nepali police on Thursday fired tear gas and water cannon to halt a chariot festival that drew hundreds of Hindus and Buddhists onto the streets in defiance of coronavirus restrictions.

The police said at least four of its personnel were injured and a water cannon truck damaged in the clash. Festival participants were also hurt but their number was not known.

People come from across the Kathmandu Valley each year to see the 15-meter-high (49-foot) wooden chariot carrying the rain deity Macchindra Nath pulled through the streets of Lalitpur, near the capital.

Loud chants to let the chariot through rang out Thursday amid traditional drum beats as police lined up to stop the crowds.

"Police dispersed the crowd breaching the prohibitory order using tear gas and water cannons after they pelted stones (at) the security forces stopping them," said Lalitpur chief district officer Narayan Prasad Bhatta.

The centuries-old procession was supposed to begin at the end of April but was delayed when a nationwide coronavirus lockdown was imposed on March 24.

Although restrictions were eased in July, curbs were imposed again on August 20 as coronavirus cases surged. Only essential services are allowed on the streets.

The Himalayan country of 28 million people has recorded over 10,000 new infections and 100 deaths over the last 10 days. It has reported a total of 42,877 cases and 257 deaths.