April 21, 2006

Protests resume in Nepal despite king’s offer

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of people held
anti-monarchy protests across Nepal on Saturday despite the
king's promise to restore multi-party democracy, saying they
wanted his powers limited by a new constitution.

"The royal proclamation is a sham," thousands shouted on
the streets of Kathmandu, the capital. Protests were held in
several district towns as well, but there were no reports of

On Friday, King Gyanendra said he was restoring political
power to the people and asked the seven-party alliance
spearheading the pro-democracy campaign to name a new prime

The parties were holding a meeting later on Saturday to
figure out a joint response, but some leaders have already said
the king had not done enough and protests would continue.

Krishna Prasad Sitaula, a spokesman for the Nepali
Congress, a key constituent of the alliance, said the king had
not "addressed the road map of the protest movement."

"Our protest campaign will continue," he said.

The king appeared to rule out any change of the
constitution to curb his own powers, which has been a primary
demand of the political parties. They have said holding
elections to a constituent assembly, which would form a new
constitution, was critical.

"A constitutional assembly is the least bloody way of
choosing the people's government," said Ghan Bahadur Acharya
Chettri, a schoolteacher at the site of some of the most bloody
protests in recent weeks, Kathmandu's northern suburb of

"It's the way people can choose whether they want a
monarchy or not."

Around him, hundreds of youths chanted slogans and waved
party flags. A curfew to prevent a march on the palace had been
lifted, but few people were out on the streets other than the

At least 12 people have been killed and hundreds wounded in
police action against protesters since the alliance launched a
campaign on April 6 to demand restoration of multi-party

The impoverished kingdom has been virtually at a standstill
since then with the movement of goods and people blocked by a
general strike and crippling street protests across the nation.


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.

Maoist rebels, who are loosely allied with the seven-party
alliance, have insisted on a new constitution prepared by a
constituent assembly as a precondition to joining the

Gyanendra, who came to the throne after the 2001 palace
massacre when his elder brother, Birendra, was killed by his
own son, the Crown Prince Dipendra, has been under tremendous
international pressure to restore democracy.

The European Union and India both welcomed the king's
pledge to hand over power.

U.S. ambassador James Moriarty, speaking to Reuters
Television just two hours before the address, said the king had
no choice but to relent to the parties' demands.

"If he doesn't do that, I think the monarchy will not last
and ... we are going to see a revolution inside Nepal."

The White House urged Nepal's political parties to act
quickly and form a government in response to King Gyanendra's
vow to restore political power to the people.

"We are pleased that King Gyanendra's message today made
clear that sovereignty resides with the people of Nepal," said
Frederick Jones, spokesman for the White House National
Security Council.