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Time running out for King: Experts

However, despite the dire predictions of analysts, no one can be sure what Nepal King's next move may be.

india Updated: Apr 18, 2006 10:31 IST
Sam Taylor (AFP)
Sam Taylor (AFP)

Nepal's king must act quickly to defuse an increasingly volatile standoff in the insurgency-hit country after nearly two weeks of crippling anti-royal protests, analysts say.

A general strike called by opposition parties has closed the capital and sent prices soaring and, despite a government clampdown, massive protests against King Gyanendra have mushroomed across the troubled nation with at least five killed.

King Gyanendra, who grabbed total control after sacking the government 14 months ago, now faces stark choices, warned a senior Western diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"Our message is that you don't have a lot of time, you have to move and you have to talk to the (political) parties," the diplomat said.

"I think the situation is getting more and more precarious. The king has to engage the parties in open honest dialogue leading to the restoration of democracy," the senior diplomat said.

In a message for Nepalese New Year last week the king again asked political parties to enter dialogue and reiterated an offer to hold national elections as soon as possible.

His speech was dismissed by the political parties, who vowed to continue their protests until full democracy is restored and the king's power curtailed.

They have called for a mass rally to held in the capital on Thursday, marking the start of a third week of the strike.

The current protest movement is bigger than the 1990 democracy movement that first signalled the end of direct royal rule in Nepal, noted Japanese journalist Kiyoko Ogura who has lived in the kingdom for 13 years and written a book on the democracy movement.

But she saw no indication that the king would back down.

"I don't think that the king will step back, he will continue to keep his position. The only thing I can see is more confrontation," Ogura said.

"In 1990, the movement was limited to Kathmandu valley and a few other towns, but these protests are much more widespread."

The late king Birendra finally relinquished control and became a constitutional monarch in April 1990, after an estimated 300 people died.

An Indian foreign affairs expert was also doubtful his less popular brother would compromise.

"It would be a miracle if the king gave up power. The situation is likely to escalate," said Sukh Deo Muni, a professor from New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University.

"The king's next step may be to impose more control and repression," he said.

The information minister warned on Monday this could well happen after the opposition launched an economic war on the royal family.

"There will come a time when the security situation will become untenable and we have our legal options," Shrish Shamshere Rana said.

One option would be to call a state of emergency, Rana said, which would "suspend some rights of the people."

He said the government believed the protests were aided by Maoist rebels who have waged a decade-long insurgency to topple the monarchy.

"This is not a democracy movement, this is a movement clearly to capture government," the minister said.

King Gyanendra ascended the throne in tragic circumstances after the 2001 massacre of most of the royal family by the crown prince. The country had already been wracked by years of political instability and the outbreak of a Maoist insurgency in 1996.

He repeatedly fell out with his politicians and, blaming their inability to tackle the Maoists and hold elections, seized full control in February 2005.

Kapil Shrestha, a Nepalese academic detained for the last 10 days, said that while the majority want some form of monarchy they do not want King Gyanendra.

"Whether he likes it or not the country is heading towards a republic. People don't want to abolish the monarchy but he himself is hastening the process," said Shrestha, a professor of politics from Tribhuvan University.

However, despite the dire predictions, no one can be sure what the king's next move may be.

King Gyanendra met three former prime ministers on Monday night as he sought a way out of the current crisis, officials said.

"We know what outcome we want, and we know what outcome we are working hard to get, but there are some unknowns and the king's future actions are still up in the air," the senior diplomat said.

First Published: Apr 18, 2006 08:22 IST