April 22, 2006

Scores wounded as Nepal police fire on protesters

By Raju Gopalakrishnan

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepali police opened fire and used
teargas on Saturday to confront more than 100,000 anti-monarchy
protesters who defied a curfew and marched toward King
Gyanendra's palace in the center of the capital.

The police opened fire in at least two places and fired
teargas repeatedly to push back protesters just 500 meters
(half a mile) from the palace, witnesses said.

Political parties said about 150 people were wounded. About
100 were brought to one hospital alone, doctors said.

"Most of them have been hurt by teargas or in a stampede as
they fled," said Dr. Rajesh Dhoj Joshi at the Kathmandu Model
Hospital. "But some have bullet wounds."

Marchers, waving branches and red communist flags, broke
into the city as a seven-party alliance spearheading a
democracy campaign rejected overtures by the king to form a

Previously, in more than two weeks of protests,
demonstrators have been held at the outskirts.

"The proclamation has no meaning," said former Prime
Minister Girija Prasad Koirala of the Nepali Congress, the
largest party in the alliance, referring to Gyanendra's
broadcast on Friday saying he was restoring political power to
the people and asking the alliance to name a new prime

The king appeared to rule out any change of the
constitution to curb his powers. Political parties have
demanded elections for a constituent assembly, which would
draft a new constitution.

"The royal proclamation is a sham," protesters in Kathmandu
shouted as they threw tree branches, scrap and rocks across
roads to block vehicles.

Mobile phone services in Kathmandu were cut soon after the
marchers entered city limits, apparently to prevent protest
organizers from communicating.

Truckloads of armed police ringed the city center as the
marchers, young and old, were dispersed, only to try to
regroup. But rainfall in the afternoon saw the marchers head
for cover.

Troops with automatic weapons and backed by armored cars
took up position around the palace as helicopters flew


The top diplomat of Nepal's giant neighbor India said it
was up to the Nepali to work out ways to revive democracy.

"We support the views of the seven-party alliance that the
restoration of peace and multi-party democracy is the need of
the hour," Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran told reporters in New

"We believe that the sentiments of the people of Nepal
should be respected."

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, at
least 12 people have been killed and hundreds wounded in police
action against protesters since then.

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.

In a statement on Sunday the Maoist rebels, who are loosely
allied with the alliance, called Gyanendra's statement "a show
of feudal arrogance and an insult to the great human sea that
has taken to the streets."


Several thousand protesters broke out from the Thamel
tourist area in the heart of the city on Saturday and tried to
march toward the palace, just about a kilometer away.

"It started very peacefully and we just joined the back of
a very long procession," said Ian Chalmers, a tourist from
Hertfordshire in England. "Suddenly teargas shells rained in."

He said he had not heard gunshots in the commotion but
later saw two people slumped on the street, either wounded or
overcome by gas.

One man was hit on the chest with a teargas shell and was
severely wounded, Joshi, the doctor said.

"We thought he was dead. But after 15 minutes, he began to
show signs of life."

As he spoke, ambulances came in regularly carrying the
wounded, who were quickly examined before being taken in for
treatment or left lying on mattresses on the floor to be tended
to later.

Gyanendra came to the throne after the 2001 palace massacre
when his elder brother, Birendra, was killed by his own son,
the Crown Prince Dipendra.