Indian Film Star Sparks Riots in Nepal

Protesters angry about alleged anti-Nepal comments by South Asia’s latest movie heartthrob rushed the streets of Nepal’s capital today, 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.

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.

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.

Nepal’s Deputy Prime Minister Ram Chandra Poudel appealed for calm as police clashed with demonstrators today. “I appeal for calm as these types of violent activities only damage the nation,” he told reporters.

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

No serious incidents were reported but an Indian Airlines flight from Katmandu to the north Indian city of Varanasi was cancelled because the crew had difficulty reaching Katmandu airport as a result of street disturbances, India’s UNI news agency reported.

Vehement Denials

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 shot to fame last year with the release of his first film, Kaho Na Pyaar Hai, or Say This Is Love.

Although two subsequent films this year haven’t done as well, the hysteria generated by the first film has sustained his popularity.

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

“I can name all the interviews I have given. All the tapes are there for anyone to see anytime,” Roshan told STAR NEWS television channel in India. “I have never spoken against Nepal or the Nepalese people, whom I love.”

He said he believed members of the criminal underworld may have been responsible for stirring the trouble.

India’s movie industry has been rattled by the arrest this month of a movie producer alleged to have links with the underworld.

The Indian embassy said in a statement it was “deeply distressed at the violence and the loss of lives resulting from the spread of baseless rumors.”

Hurt Sentiments

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 girl who was hit by a stray bullet as she sat in her room reading, police said.

None of the demonstrators in Katmandu today 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.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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