Nepalis a poor second to Britney's baby!

Even as violence continued unabated in Nepal, the media chose to highlight the pop princess and her son.

india Updated: Apr 13, 2006 15:27 IST

Pop princess Britney Spears and her infant son apparently matter more to King Gyanendra's government in Nepal than the fates of hundreds of Nepalis caught in a quandary with the US government stopping issuing visas in the kingdom.

On Wednesday, the US Embassy in Kathmandu announced that due to the "ongoing violence, curfews and widespread insecurity" in Nepal, it was reducing its activities.

These included closing the American Center library and the consular section, putting on hold till further notice the processing of visa applications.

Alarmed at the escalating conflict in the capital since Saturday, when the government imposed day-time curfew in Kathmandu Valley to put down opposition protests, Washington also decided at the last moment to cancel the Nepal trip of an important Congressional delegation.

Headed by House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert, the eight-member team was earlier scheduled to visit Nepal from Wednesday to Friday at the conclusion of their trip to India.

While the cancellation and the scaling back of activities at the embassy made front-page news for the independent media and important news for the international media as well, Nepal's official media, under tight control of the palace and royalist officials, ignored them.

The news went unreported in the state-run television, radio and finally, on Thursday, in the official print media as well.

While Nepali students applying to American colleges, job seekers and Green card aspirants began running from pillar to post wondering what to do, the official daily, the Rising Nepal, chose to highlight pop princess Britney Spears' predicament instead.

"Britney Spears' son falls from high chair", said a long story on the news page of the daily while another report on Child Welfare officials visiting the Spears' home made its way to the entertainment page.

"How are the events at the Spears home relevant for us?" fumed Narendra Shrestha, a local businessman whose shop has remained closed since April 6, due to an indefinite strike called by the opposition parties and a four-day curfew imposed by the government.

"I want to know when I can safely open my shop, when the government will lift curfew and when my mobile phone will work again," he said.

Though the government lifted day-time curfew in Kathmandu Valley Wednesday, three major towns still remain curfew-bound and the valley under night curfew.

Mobile telephone services were also suspended from April 8, a regular occurrence during the 14-month absolute rule by the king, with the government keeping mum on when they would be resumed.

While violence erupted in Nepal last week, resulting in at least six being killed, dozens injured and hundreds arrested, the king chose to ignore the events to attend a controversial ceremony held in Birgunj in southern Nepal, where Hindu royalists threw their weight behind him and urged him to be strong.

First Published: Apr 13, 2006 15:27 IST