Royalists call shut-downs in Nepal over ex-crown prince's arrest
Protests erupted in Nepal today as royalists began demonstrations and called shutdowns in at least two major districts to protest the arrest of former crown prince Paras Bir Bikram Shah for firing in air following a brawl with the son-in-law of Deputy Prime Minister Sujata Koirala.world Updated: Dec 15, 2010 11:58 IST
Protests erupted in Nepal on Wednesday as royalists began demonstrations and called shut-downs in at least two major districts to protest the arrest of former crown prince Paras Bir Bikram Shah for firing in air following a brawl with the son-in-law of Deputy Prime Minister Sujata Koirala.
The tourist destination of Chitwan in southern Nepal, where the drama involving two of the most high-profile families had occurred on Saturday night, simmered with tension as the lone royalist party in parliament, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal, went on the war path, calling a general strike to protest against what it called a "political vendetta".
Dozens of protesters began obstructing the highway by burning tyres and calling for Paras' release, reviving memories of the turbulence of 2006 when the public anger was targeted against Paras and his family.
The royalist party, which is campaigning for the restoration of monarchy, also chanted slogans against Koirala, whose father, late prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala played a key role in the pro-democracy movement four years ago that led to the abolition of Nepal's 240-year-old monarchy.
Protesters began torching effigies of Sujata Koirala, who is also Nepal's foreign minister and is current in Thailand on an official visit.
Protests erupted in Parsa district as well, close to the Indian border where Nepal's major commercial hub Birgunj town is located.
Nepal Rastrabad Sangh called a shutdown in the district and its president Janak Shah said police should also initiate action against the other person involved in the brawl.
Hundreds of vehicles and people, including a large number of tourists, were reported to have been stranded in the two districts due to the protests.
The fresh violence was the aftermath of a brawl in Chitwan's upmarket Tiger Tops wildlife lodge Saturday night where Paras, notorious for his uncontrollable temper and fondness for drunken brawls, got into an argument with fellow guest, Rubel Chowdhury.
Chowdhury, a Bangladeshi national who is married to Melanie, daughter of Sujata Koirala, said Paras, who had started to drink, first tried to coerce him into going to the jungle to watch tigers at midnight.
When he refused, the former heir to Nepal's throne reportedly whipped out a gun and pointed it at his head, threatening to kill Rubel, his wife and their three-and-a-half year-old son.
Paras' anger apparently stemmed from the role played by the Koirala family in the demolition of monarchy in Nepal in 2008 that ended his hope of ascending the throne. The abolition also stripped the former royals of all their privileges, including legal immunity, and turned them out of the ancestral palace, which became a museum.
Paras had issued a statement soon after the fracas, admitting he had fired in the air but blamed it on provocation by Chowdhury and his companion.
He claimed the pair had insulted him, his family and his country.
Though the brawl had occurred on Saturday, police took action only on Tuesday after a snowballing media outcry and pressure by Koirala and her Nepali Congress, that is the largest party in Nepal's ruling alliance.
The top leaders of the party met Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal to urge action against Paras.
Finally, police Tuesday arrested the 39-year-old from another swanky resort in Pokhara city close to Kathmandu, and flew him back to Chitwan for investigations. It was the first time in Nepal's history that a former royal was arrested.
Paras, who had suffered a heart attack three years ago and undergone heart surgery, was said to be ill, with his blood pressure shooting up.
He was accompanied by a family member, who is also a physician, and his lawyer.
The former crown prince was forced to spend Tuesday night in police custody at the regional police training centre in Bharatpur, the main town in Chitwan.
Hundreds flocked to the spot but were held back by police who threw a tight cordon around the centre.
A section of the crowd was jubilant, saying Paras should be handcuffed and paraded in the town as penalty for his past misdeeds, which included running over a popular singer and killing him and brawling in other public places.
Royalists, however, said he was being victimised by a vengeful state that had failed to take action against other more severe crimes like murder, committed under the patronage of the ruling parties and the Maoists.
The preliminary questioning over, Paras will be formally charged on Wednesday.
Though Nepal's official media on Tuesday said he had been charged with attempted murder, police said it could be tempered to lesser charges.
As another punitive step, the government withdrew the army protection given to Paras. The army said it had initiated an inquiry into the role of the seven soldiers who were part of Paras' entourage of bodyguards and had been present during the Chitwan brawl.