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After royal victory, Nepal's future uncertain

Nepal's capital braced on Friday for more protests over polls that were swept by pro-royal candidates.

india Updated: Feb 10, 2006 09:10 IST

Nepal's capital braced on Friday for more protests over polls that were swept by pro-royal candidates as analysts said the nation's future looked increasingly uncertain.

Popular anger was mounting over the army killing of a demonstrator during the municipal elections on Wednesday that King Gyanendra has insisted will be a step toward restoring democracy by April 2007.

On Thursday, 1,500 people crying 'Hang the murderers' massed in a Kathmandu suburb to protest the shooting death of Umesh Chandra Thapa that occurred when protesters tried to thwart the polls which saw a turnout of just 21 per cent.

Police also fired tear gas on Thursday at students who were protesting Thapa's killing.

Gyanendra seized power a year ago, promising to quell a deadly Maoist insurgency in the impoverished Himalayan nation.

"Student bodies will actively protest against the killing by the Royal Nepalese Army soldiers in the days ahead," Indra Karki, secretary of the Nepal Student's Union, said.

Thapa's body was flown to Kathmandu from west Nepal where he was killed but it was still in the army's custody late on Thursday.

"It's not known when they will release the body," said Rajenra Pandey, a coordinator of the seven-party opposition alliance which had boycotted the polls, denouncing them as a sham.

Analysts said the elections, slammed by the United States as Gyanendra's "hollow attempt to legitimise power" and by neighbouring India as lacking credibility, had hurt the king's authority.

"His credibility is declining," said Dhruba Adhikary, president of the Nepal Press Institute. The low turnout "shows there is a lack of trust."

The elections were marked by record low turnout of 21 per cent, the election commission said, blaming the low participation on "unfavourable conditions."

On top of the opposition party boycott, the Maoists, fighting since 1996 to overthrow the monarchy, had threatened to "take action" against anyone taking part.

A rebel-called strike shut down much of Nepal in the run-up to the vote.

More than half of the seats up for grabs remained empty due to a dearth of candidates while in 22 municipalities mayors were elected unopposed.

Analysts say republican sentiment has grown since Gyanendra seized power and that Nepal's economy, already in shambles as a result of the Maoist insurgency, has worsened.

"The election is a state-managed farce. It can only damage the future of the country," said Kapil Shrestha, politics professor at Tribhuvan University and a human rights activist.

Gyanendra's "roadmap toward democracy has led to ruin," Shrestha said. "He has shown his stubbornness and arrogance with a medieval state of mind."

Opposition parties and the Maoists entered a loose alliance against the monarchy last year that has held despite the deaths of more than 140 people since the rebels ended a unilateral ceasefire in early January.

Both the United States and India, which is seeking to tackle low-level Maoist insurgencies in several of its own states, are keen to avoid a Maoist takeover in Nepal and have been urging talks between the king and mainstream opposition parties.

"The only effective way to deal with the threat posed by Maoists is to restore democracy in Nepal," US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington.

First Published: Feb 10, 2006 09:10 IST