April 22, 2006

Tens of thousands of Nepal protesters on march

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of anti-monarchy
protesters defied a curfew and were marching toward the center
of Nepal's capital on Saturday as a seven-party alliance
rejected overtures by the king to form a government.

Security forces had begun pushing the crowd back but there
were no immediate reports of casualties. Armed troops were in
position around palace in the center of the city and
helicopters flew overhead.

"The proclamation has no meaning," said former Prime
Minister Girija Prasad Koirala of the Nepali Congress, the
largest party in the alliance, referring to King Gyanendra's
broadcast to the nation on Friday in which the monarch offered
to hand over executive power.

"The royal proclamation is a sham," protesters shouted as
they threw tree branches, scrap and rocks across roads to block
vehicles. Black smoke rose from scores of bonfires.

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

The king 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 seven-party alliance has been agitating since April 6
to force Gyanendra to restore multi-party democracy. In all, 12
people have been killed and hundreds wounded in police action
against protesters since then.

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

"The structure remains with the palace. Forming a
government doesn't mean anything in the present context," said
Lok Raj Baral, executive chairman of the Nepal Center for
Contemporary Studies, a private think tank.

"The situation has gone far beyond that.

"It's a very broad-based movement, every single segment of
society is involved, not the parties alone. For the time being
we are destined to undergo more trouble."

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

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

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

The Maoist rebels, who are loosely allied with the
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. The White House urged political
parties to act quickly and form a government.