Nepal police fire on protesters, scores hurt
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Nepal police fire on protesters, scores hurt

Police opened fire in at least two places and fired teargas repeatedly to push back protesters from the palace.

india Updated: Apr 22, 2006 16:44 IST

Nepali police opened fire and used teargas on Saturday to try to disperse over 100,000 anti-monarchy protesters who defied a curfew and marched towards King Gyanendra's palace in the centre of the capital.

Police opened fire in at least two places and fired teargas repeatedly to push back protesters just a km from the palace, witnesses said.

Political parties said about 150 people were wounded during the day.

About 75 were brought to one hospital alone, doctors said.

"Most of them have been hurt by teargas or in a stampede as they fled," said Dr Rajesh Dhoj Joshi at the Kathmandu Model Hospital. "But some have bullet wounds."

The 16th straight day of protest, with marchers waving branches and red communist flags, came as a seven-party alliance rejected overtures by the King to form a government.

The mobile phone services in the capital were cut as the rallies mounted, apparently to prevent protest organisers from communicating.

Truckloads of armed police ringed the city centre as the marchers, young and old, were dispersed, only to try to regroup.

But rainfall in the afternoon saw marchers head for cover.

Troops armed with automatic weapons and backed by armoured cars took up position around the palace as helicopters flew overhead.

"The proclamation has no meaning," said former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala of the Nepali Congress, the largest party in the alliance, referring to Gyanendra's broadcast to the nation on Friday in which the monarch offered to hand over executive power.

"The royal proclamation is a sham," protesters shouted as they threw tree branches, scrap and rocks across roads to block vehicles.

Several thousand protesters broke out from the Thamel tourist area in the heart of the city and tried to march toward the palace, just about a km away.

Slumped on the street

"It started very peacefully and we just joined the back of a very long procession," said Ian Chalmers, a tourist from Hertfordshire in England. "Suddenly teargas shells rained in."

He said he had not heard gunshots in the commotion but later saw two people slumped on the street, either wounded or overcome by gas.

One man was hit on the chest with a teargas shell and was severely wounded, Joshi, the doctor said.

"We thought he was dead. But after 15 minutes, he began to show signs of life."

Gyanendra said on Friday he was restoring political power to the people and asked the seven-party alliance spearheading the pro-democracy campaign to name a new prime minister.

The King sacked the government and took full powers in February 2005, vowing to crush a decade-old Maoist revolt in which more than 13,000 people have died.

The seven-party alliance has been agitating since April 6 to force Gyanendra to restore multi-party democracy.

In all, at least 12 people have been killed and hundreds wounded in police action against protesters since then.

The King appeared to rule out any change of the constitution to curb his own powers.

The political parties have said holding elections to a constituent assembly, which would form a new constitution, was critical.

"The structure remains with the palace. Forming a government doesn't mean anything in the present context," said Lok Raj Baral, executive chairman of the Nepal Centre for Contemporary Studies, a private think tank.

"The situation has gone far beyond that."

The impoverished kingdom has been virtually at a standstill with the movement of goods and people blocked by a general strike and crippling street protests across the nation.

The Maoist rebels, who are loosely allied with the alliance, have insisted on a new constitution prepared by a constituent assembly as a precondition to joining the mainstream.

Gyanendra came to the throne after the 2001 palace massacre when his elder brother, Birendra, was killed by his own son, the Crown Prince Dipendra.

First Published: Apr 22, 2006 16:44 IST