April 21, 2006

Nepal king to address nation as protests mount

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal's King Gyanendra will address
the nation at 7 p.m. (9:15 a.m. EDT) on Friday, state
television said, amid widespread speculation that he would hand
over political power to an all-party government.

After more than two weeks of violent street protests
demanding he restore democracy, the embattled monarch has come
under tremendous international pressure to relent.

At least 12 people have been killed and hundreds wounded in
the pro-democracy campaign, which was launched on April 6.

On Friday, protesters burned tires and threw logs and
barbed wire across the streets of the capital, Kathmandu, as a
curfew imposed to prevent a march on the palace came into

Black smoke rose from several places in the city of 1.5
million people as protesters, angry at the king's sacking of
the government last year, tried to block movement of police and

Protesters burned a government revenue office on the
outskirts of the capital and fought street battles with police
elsewhere in the city. There was no word of serious casualties.

The 11-hour curfew in Kathmandu began at 9 a.m. (11 p.m.
EDT), but was only being enforced within the city limits. On
the ring road outside, tens of thousands marched, waved party
flags and chanted slogans demanding the king leave the country.

Riot police, troops with automatic weapons and armored cars
stood at major intersections to barf entry to protesters.

On Thursday, police opened fired on tens of thousands of
demonstrators trying to march into the city. At least three
people were killed and up to 100 injured.

"So many people have come out on the street despite the
curfew and crackdown," said Krishna Prasad Sitaula, a leader of
the Nepali Congress, the country's largest political party.

"It's an indication that our movement has succeeded. Only
the result has to be announced. We will continue this until the
result comes in favor of the people."

Gyanendra 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 king has vowed to hold elections by April 2007, but the
alliance says he is not to be trusted.

Local reports say the king is likely to appoint a former
prime minister, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, to the post again in
an effort to appease the protesters.

But Bhattarai has apparently indicated he will only take
the position if it is acceptable to the seven-party alliance.

Thursday's crackdown on the protesters appeared to have
focused even more anger on the monarch.

"This way the king cannot rule," said Goma Parajuli, a
woman selling vegetables from a basket as residents flocked to
stalls and markets in the capital to stock up on food.

Some protesters taunted armed police who stood nearby.

"You live on the people's taxes," shouted one man. "You
can't kill the people."

Away from Kathmandu, demonstrations involving 100,000
people and above have also been staged in district towns,
bringing the landlocked kingdom to a standstill.