April 12, 2006

Fourth Nepali killed by troops as protests flare

By Gopal Sharma and Y.P. Rajesh

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepali troops shot dead an activist
on Wednesday as violent pro-democracy protests flared for the
seventh day across the troubled Himalayan nation.

The latest death is the fourth during a mass campaign
launched by political parties last Thursday to force the
monarch to end his absolute rule.

The royalist government relaxed a daytime curfew in the
capital city Kathmandu, although protests continue to be banned
and there was no indication of King Gyanendra trying to defuse
the crisis.

Wednesday's shooting took place in Nawalparasi town, 200 km
(125 miles) west of Kathmandu, when hundreds of demonstrators
clashed with police, Yogesh Bhattarai, a senior leader of the
Communist Party of Nepal (UML), told Reuters.

Troops also opened fire at hundreds of activists in Jhapa
town, to the east of Kathmandu, wounding several, one local
journalist said. But local officials denied the shooting and
said the protesters had only been baton-charged.

The Communist Party of Nepal said in a statement that 26
people were wounded in Jhapa and 13 in Nawalparasi.

Hundreds of protesters defied a curfew in the western
tourist resort town of Pokhara and clashed with police before
some 200 were detained, witnesses said.

About 5,000 people marched through the main streets of
Nepalgunj town on the Indian border, about 550 km (350 miles)
west of Kathmandu.

But despite the relaxation of the curfew in Kathmandu,
there was a relative lull in protests with only a handful of
peaceful demonstrations.

A curfew had been in force since Saturday in a bid to quell
protests called by the seven main political parties against
King Gyanendra's power grab 14 months ago.

The U.S. embassy said it was reducing its activities in
Nepal due to the disturbances and canceling a planned visit to
the country this week by a group of Congressmen.

"In scaling back the activities, the mission ... has gone
to minimal staffing," it said in a statement.


Maoist rebels, fighting since 1996 to topple the monarchy,
urged soldiers and policemen to back the people in their
struggle against the king.

"The new regime about to be born will develop a new
structure, a new democratic army," Maoist chief Prachanda said
in a statement without elaborating.

Although political parties, businessmen, doctors and
lawyers had vowed to stage a big demonstration in the capital
on Wednesday, stiff security foiled their plans.

But residents in Kathmandu, who poured into the streets
with the curfew being lifted, said they were confident
multi-party democracy would be restored soon.

"How long can they do this, how long can they beat people
and arrest them and stop them?" asked Krishna, a Kathmandu
resident who gave only his first name.

"The king can't even control his son, how can he control
the country?" he said, referring to Prince Paras who was in the
past known for his playboy image.

The mass campaign, backed by Maoist insurgents, had been
due to end on Sunday but was extended indefinitely as stringent
security measures prevented big rallies against the king.

On Tuesday, troops shot at activists, wounding many, after
they burned tires, chanted slogans and clashed with police in
Gongabu, a Kathmandu suburb.

Gyanendra justified taking power in February 2005 by saying
politicians had failed to crush a raging Maoist revolt. But the
turmoil in the troubled nation has only worsened.

The Maoist conflict has killed more than 13,000 people and
wrecked the aid-and-tourism dependent economy of one of the 10
poorest countries in the world.

International pressure has mounted on the king to end his
crackdown and restore democracy.