April 14, 2006

Fresh protests in Nepal despite king’s overtures

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Fresh pro-democracy protests broke
out in Nepal on Friday despite King Gyanendra's pledge to hold
elections in the Himalayan kingdom, as activists said he
offered nothing new or substantive.

Groups of protesters took to the streets of the capital
Kathmandu hours after the king's midnight message, chanting
"Gyanendra, thief, quit the country" and "Down with autocracy,
end police repression."

Riot police arrested about 20 demonstrators, but there was
no violence. Scattered protests continued through the day, but
were not as intense as in previous days because it was a
holiday for the Nepali Hindu New Year.

Political parties leading the movement against the king
were quick to reject his offer for elections, saying the
monarch's new year message would not defuse the fierce campaign
in which four people have been killed and hundreds wounded in
the past week.

"If the king doesn't listen to the voice of the people, I
can only say, 'god save the king'," Girija Prasad Koirala,
president of Nepal's largest political party, told Reuters in
an interview.

Nepalis had hoped the king's traditional new year message
would contain some new steps to ease tensions but it was
largely a repeat of earlier promises to hold elections by April
2007. He sacked the government and assumed total power in
February 2005.

"It is our wish that in order to re-energize multi-party
democracy there should not be any delay in reactivating all
representative bodies through elections," the king said.

"May the efforts at ensuring sustainable peace and
meaningful democracy in the interests of the nation and the
people bear fruit during the new year."

Senior leaders of an alliance of Nepal's seven main
political parties, who are demanding the restoration of a
representative government immediately, said his offer was too
little, too late.

"He did not address the problem of the nation, he should
have done that," said Koirala, 84, a four-time prime minister.

"There is no change (in his stance), all he has changed are
only his words. We will start our agitation as usual and it
will go on till the sovereignty of the people is not returned."


Sher Bahadur Deuba, who the king sacked as the prime
minister 14 months ago, said the monarch had offered nothing

"He is not willing to reconcile with the opposition," he
told Reuters. "The battle will go on. There will be chaos,
violence, riots, for a few months or a few years."

That sentiment was echoed on the streets. "I didn't like
the king's speech," said taxi driver Keshav Khatiwada, who was
watching one of the protests. "He has only raised false hopes,
there will be no peace."

Kanchha Tamang, a 34-year-old who was participating in the
demonstration, said: "It might take some time for democracy to
be restored, but the king cannot continue like this."

In his message, the 58-year-old monarch made no reference
to the mass campaign against his rule, which has brought the
impoverished country, wedged between India and China, to a

He also made no mention of Maoist rebels who have been
fighting since 1996 to topple the monarchy and have joined
hands with mainstream political parties to form a loose
alliance against the king.

More than 13,000 people have been killed in the Maoist
revolt which has wrecked the aid and tourism dependent economy.

In New York, Louise Arbour, the U.N. high commissioner for
human rights, said she was shocked by the "excessive" use of
force by Nepal's security forces against pro-democracy
protesters, warning the government its participation in U.N.
peacekeeping missions could be affected.

The royalist government in Kathmandu was quick to react.

"Whatever pontification the West is giving about democracy
to the king, it should be directed at the political parties,"
Information Minister Shirish Shamsher Rana told reporters.

"My king does not make mistakes. The king listens to his
people, why don't the political parties listen to the people?"