April 12, 2006

Nepal hopes king will act to defuse crisis

By Y.P. Rajesh

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal's embattled king returned to
the capital after a nearly two-month vacation and there are
hopes he might make the first move to defuse a violent campaign
against him, officials said on Thursday.

King Gyanendra returned to Kathmandu late on Wednesday from
the western tourist resort town of Pokhara, a week after the
Himalayan country came to a standstill after his opponents
launched mass protests seeking restoration of democracy.

The king is due to give his traditional message to the
nation on Nepali New Year day on Friday and analysts and
political foes hoped he might use the occasion to reach out to
his opponents.

Protests against him are at their most intense since he
grabbed power 14 months ago and he has taken a hardline against

"If the king is getting his information correctly and if he
is watching the situation correctly, the common denominator in
all the opposition against him is that it is he who needs to
take the initiative to end this crisis," a Kathmandu-based
diplomat said.

"That is the opinion of the people, the political parties
and the international community," he said.

Some analysts said that the 58-year-old king, in a bid to
buy time, could announce cosmetic changes to his royalist
cabinet or even a timetable for national elections he has said
will be held before April 2007.

But that was unlikely to satisfy the seven-party alliance
against him, which wants multi-party democracy restored and
executive powers returned to an all-party government.

That appears unlikely for now.

Street protests against the king would continue for the
eighth day on Thursday, the parties said, adding their movement
was growing stronger with more ordinary people taking part and
urged businessmen, troops and government employees to join.

"If they are punished by the government for joining the
protests the new government will protect them," the alliance
said in a statement.


Interest on bank loans of businessmen would also be waived
for the period of the pro-democracy campaign, they said.

"We appeal to hospitals to treat wounded protesters and
their expenses will be paid by the government after the
restoration of democracy," they said.

"The democratic government will take care of the families
of those killed during the protests," they added.

Four people have been shot dead by troops and hundreds
wounded across the country over the past week in clashes with
riot police.

In one of the most violent incidents, more than 100 people
were wounded, several of them seriously, when troops opened
fire and used rubber bullets in a Kathmandu suburb on Tuesday,
the first time protesters had been shot at in the capital
during the latest campaign.

One leading Nepali newspaper said on Thursday that 15
people wounded in the incident were missing while another put
the number at 37.

Nepal, which has been battling a violent Maoist revolt
since 1996, was pushed deeper into turmoil in February 2005
when King Gyanendra sacked the government and took power saying
politicians had failed to tackle the insurgency.

More than 13,000 people have been killed in the revolt,
which aims to topple the monarchy, and Nepal's economy has been
wrecked under its impact.

The rebels and the seven political parties formed a loose
alliance last November under which the Maoists are backing the
latest anti-king campaign.

(Additional reporting by Gopal Sharma)