Crisis in Nepal deepens as king, protesters fail to reconcile | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Crisis in Nepal deepens as king, protesters fail to reconcile

PTI | ByBinaj Gurubacharya (Associated Press), Kathmandu, Nepal
May 09, 2004 08:14 PM IST

Nearly every day, the streets of Kathmandu fill with angry protesters demanding a return to democracy in this Himalayan kingdom. Nearly every evening, hundreds of them fill the city's jails.

Nearly every day, the streets of Kathmandu fill with angry protesters demanding a return to democracy in this Himalayan kingdom. Nearly every evening, hundreds of them fill the city's jails.

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Most are freed after a few hours under arrest. And the next day, the cycle begins again.

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As the political crisis in Nepal deepens, there are few signs that cycle is anywhere near ending.

This country once known for its high mountain peaks has turned into a place known for chaos, where protesters shut down the capital nearly every day and Maoist rebels control wide swathes of the hinterlands.

On Friday, the five largest parties backing the protests rejected an appeal for talks from King Gyanendra, calling it a ploy to make the demonstrations fizzle out.

"We have decided that the king is not serious about resolving the issues," said Madhav Kumar Nepal, leader of the United Marxist Leninist Communist Party of Nepal.

The protesters are demanding the king remove the monarchist Cabinet he installed after dismissing Parliament in 2002, and restore democracy.

The king's actions were a sharp turnaround for Nepal, where the absolute monarchy came to a peaceful end after similar street protests in 1990.

While it remains unclear whether the protesters can do the same thing again, the king's offer of talks appeared to indicate he was worried.

In an April 13 message commemorating the Nepalese new year, King Gyanendra said the "highest priority" should be put on bringing back democracy before the year is over. "Let us make it a year of peace," he said.

Most observers believe it's time for some sort of talks. "The parties should pressure the king through the talks, even if they continue the street protests," said Kishor Nepal, a political analyst.

Nepal has been in turmoil since King Gyanendra suddenly assumed the crown in June 2001 after his brother King Birendra was gunned down in a bizarre shooting massacre at the royal palace, apparently by Birendra's son, the crown prince who then reportedly took his own life.

Soon after he was crowned, riots followed in the streets of the Katmandu, the fighting between Maoist rebels and government troops intensified and the taking of executive power was criticized by most of the people in this Himalayan nation.

The unrest, which has flared intermittently since the king dissolved Parliament following political squabbling and faction fights, has grown much larger in recent weeks as opposition parties brought hundreds of additional supporters in from villages and ratcheted up the pressure. On some days, more than 1,000 demonstrators have been arrested. The protests have also turned violent at times, and hundreds of protesters have been injured in scuffles with police.

The unrest comes as Nepal prepares for an important May meeting in Katmandu, when increasingly concerned donor countries and aid groups _ who supply a third of the country's annual budget in grants and loans _ will assess the situation.

Donor help has become even more important as frequent strikes, road blockades and disturbances have slowed the economy. Tourism, the biggest source of foreign income, has taken a major blow as hundreds, if not thousands, of tourists have avoided Nepal. "I have had most of my reservations canceled," said Deepak Shrestha, who runs a hotel in Katmandu's tourist area, known as Thamel. "If this keeps up ... our tourism will die." Home to eight of the world's 14 highest peaks _ including Mt. Everest - Nepal has long been one of the world's premier destinations for trekkers and mountaineers.

This year, though, with the unrest coming right in the middle of the spring trekking season, plenty of people are avoiding Nepal's rugged mountain beauty. Many of the nations that send high-dollar tourists, including the United States, Britain and Australia, warn their citizens to stay away.

"The number of trekkers has certainly declined due to the situation. We have also been forced to limit the treks to a few areas where it is still safe," said Ang Karma, who runs a trekking agency in Katmandu.

Many of the most popular trekking routes have been abandoned in recent years, because of threats from Maoist rebels, who have been fighting since 1996 for a communist state.

While the rebels haven't harmed any foreign trekkers, they have taken money and cameras from them.

The rebels have escalated their attacks since pulling out of a seven-month cease-fire in August, after three rounds of peace talks. The Nepalese government has so far refused to hold talks unless the rebels give up arms and come forward for talks. The rebels now say they will only allow mediation through the United Nations. The insurgency has claimed more than 9,000 lives.

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