April 15, 2006

Nepal protests intensify

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Thousands of people staged a
pro-democracy protest in Kathmandu on Saturday, the largest
turnout in Nepal's capital since the latest campaign against
King Gyanendra was launched.

About 8,000 people gathered in the Kalanki suburb on the
western outskirts of the city, chanting slogans as they sat
cross-legged on the road.

"Down with autocracy, restore democracy," they shouted,
waving red flags of protest as riot police watched. Onlookers
in nearby shops and houses cheered.

At another place in the city, police charged with batons to
break up a protest by local journalists and arrested at least a
dozen people, witnesses said. Several journalists were hurt,
they said.

Just hours earlier, one of the top leaders of the movement
vowed to step up protests but said activists would remain
peaceful and non-violent.

At least four people have been killed and hundreds wounded
since an alliance of seven political parties launched a general
strike 10 days ago, bringing the impoverished Himalayan kingdom
to a standstill.

Amrit Kumar Bohra of the Communist Party of Nepal (UML),
who is wanted by police, said anger against the king had
mounted after his Nepali New Year message to the nation on
Friday repeated previous promises and contained no new

"We will further intensify our strike," he told Reuters at
a hideout in the capital. "We will make it more effective and
more people will come out on the street. We are not afraid of
the suppression and the repression."

Asked what effect this could have on the people, he said:
"The general strike will cause some inconvenience to the
people, but the royalist regime is causing bigger problems.

"Therefore let's bear trouble for some more time and
establish peace and democracy and that will usher in prosperity
for ever."

Very little traffic was on the streets of Kathmandu on
Saturday, but several shops were open. Crowds thronged to
vegetable and fruit sellers in the city of about 1.5 million,
stocking up for what could be a long drawn-out campaign.

"We are trying to make our protests more and more
peaceful," said Gagan Thapa, a student activist on the street
in Kalanki. "We have to be careful because we are being
infiltrated by government-sponsored vigilantes."

Asked how long the campaign could last since both sides
appear unlikely to back down, he said: "This is the people's
movement and history shows people never lose. We have the
confidence we are going to win, but it may take time."

Gyanendra, who sacked the government and seized absolute
power 14 months ago, promised on Friday to hold elections by
April 2007. But he has said so before, and has made no response
to demands that he immediately allow a representative
government to take charge and end the crackdown on political

Nepal, the world's only Hindu kingdom, launched multi-party
democracy only in 1990, after a sustained campaign against
Gyanendra's predecessor and brother, King Birendra.

Gyanendra came to the throne in 2001 after then Crown
Prince Dipendra shot dead nine royals including his parents in
a drug and drink fueled rage before turning the gun on himself.

In February 2005, the current king sacked the government,
saying corruption was rampant, and that it had not been able to
counter a spiraling Maoist rebellion.

At least 13,000 people have been killed since the Maoists
launched an armed movement in 1996 against the monarchy. They
have now formed a loose alliance with the political parties
opposed to the king.