Anti-King protests to intensify in Nepal

Anger had mounted as Gyanendra's proposals for elections and talks with the Oppn offered no new concessions.

india Updated: Apr 15, 2006 11:35 IST

A top leader of Nepal's pro-democracy campaign vowed on Saturday to step up peaceful protests against the absolute rule of King Gyanendra, despite the monarch's pledge to hold elections.

At least four people have been killed and hundreds wounded since an alliance of seven political parties launched a general strike 10 days ago, bringing the impoverished Himalayan kingdom to a standstill.

Amrit Kumar Bohra of the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) said anger had mounted as Gyanendra's repeated proposals on Friday for elections and talks with the Opposition offered no new concessions

"We will further intensify our strike," Bohra, who is wanted by police, told Reuters at a hideout in a western suburb of Kathmandu.

"We will make it more effective and more people will come out on the street. We are not afraid of the suppression and the repression.

"The general strike will cause some inconvenience to the people, but the royalist regime is causing bigger problems. Therefore, let's bear trouble for some more time and establish peace and democracy and that will usher in prosperity for ever."

Little traffic was on the streets on Saturday in the capital city of 1.5 million people, though several shops were open.

Vegetable and fruit sellers were surrounded by crowds, apparently stocking up for what could be a long, drawn-out campaign.

In the Kalanki suburb of the capital, hundreds of people staged a sit-down protest, waving red flags and chanting: "Our protest continues, down with autocratic rule".

Riot police watched but did not intervene. A few hundred metres away, soldiers stood with machine guns, backed by an armoured car.

"We are trying to make our protests more and more peaceful," said Gagan Thapa, a student activist who was leading the slogan-shouting.

"We have to be careful because we are being infiltrated by government-sponsored vigilantes."

Asked how long the campaign could last, since both sides appear unlikely to back down, he said: "This is the people's movement and history shows people never lose. We have the confidence we are going to win, but it may take time."

Gyanendra, who sacked the government and seized absolute power 14 months ago, promised on Friday to hold elections by April 2007.

But he has said so before, and has made no response to demands that he immediately allow a representative government to take charge and end the crackdown on political parties.

"The king has to restore democracy and establish peace," said Bohra. "He wants to win militarily, but it cannot be done."

Nepal, the world's only Hindu kingdom, launched multi-party democracy only in 1990, after a sustained campaign against Gyanendra's predecessor and brother, King Birendra.

Gyanendra came to the throne in 2001 after then Crown Prince Dipendra shot dead nine royals, including his parents, in a drug and drink fuelled rage before turning the gun on himself.

In February 2005, the current king sacked the government, saying corruption was rampant, and that it had not been able to counter a spiralling Maoist rebellion.

At least 13,000 people have been killed since the Maoists launched an armed movement in 1996 against the monarchy. They have now formed a loose alliance with the political parties opposed to the king.

First Published: Apr 15, 2006 11:35 IST