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Karate king rooting for Nepal king

A 51-year-old black belt in karate will be taking part in an unusual fight in Kathmandu next month to save Nepal's embattled King Gyanendra.
PTI | By Sudeshna Sarkar, Kathmandu
UPDATED ON MAR 12, 2008 12:46 PM IST

A 51-year-old black belt in karate will be taking part in an unusual fight here next month to save Nepal's embattled King Gyanendra.

Jagat Gauchan, sixth dan in karate and the man who introduced martial arts to the former Himalayan kingdom almost 15 years ago, will take on Maoist chief Prachanda in the Kathmandu Valley in the crucial April election.

Gauchan, a former junior minister in the king's ill-fated brief government, is back in the ring as one of the most watched contestants of the royalist Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal, which is fielding 207 royalists for the 240 seats of the new constituent assembly that are to be filled on the basis of a direct election.

"I have over 4,000-5,000 martial art students in Kathmandu Valley," the stately Gauchan told IANS before departing for remote Myagdi district, his second constituency for the April 10 constituent assembly election. "All of them and their families will vote for me to ensure my victory."

Ward 10 of Kathmandu Valley is going to be one of the most closely watched poll fights since Gauchan is pitted there against Prachanda as well as contestants from the two big parties, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala's Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML).

Gauchan dismissed his rivals.

"Though the NC and UML are big parties, their men are weak candidates. The personality of the candidate is what counts most in a direct fight. The Maoist insurgency killed 15,000 people and created unrest in Nepal. Kathmandu Valley will not vote for the Maoists either," he said.

As for his past, in which he threw in his lot with King Gyanendra's regime, he says people have realised the nature of the ruling parties.

"People have realised that the ruling parties are a joke," he said. "They know that the seven parties have not worked for the benefit of the nation but sold it out. Things have worsened under them. The royal government had at least ensured better security for people."

Gauchan's party is going to the polls rooting for a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarch.

While the prime minister will head the government, RPP-Nepal's poll manifesto presses for the king as the head of state.

"Monarchy is an ideological free institution. It can fit into any government model and accommodate the Maoists," said Kamal Thapa, RPP-Nepal's new chief who was also King Gyanendra's home minister during the royal regime.

Thapa, who was arrested after the fall of the royal government in 2006 for his alleged role in ordering excessive force against anti-king protesters but was freed on court order, is also demanding the scrapping of a parliamentary resolution last year that proclaimed the Himalayan kingdom a republic.

"The proclamation was a grave attack on people's rights," Thapa said. "We are asking for a referendum in which people will have the power to decide the issue."

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