April 17, 2006

Nepali troops open fire on protesters, kill one

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepali troops opened fire on
anti-monarchy protesters in an eastern town on Monday and
killed one man, witnesses said, as international pressure
increased on King Gyanendra to restore multi-party democracy.

If confirmed, it would be the fifth person to be killed in
12 days of violent pro-democracy demonstrations that have
brought the impoverished Himalayan nation to a standstill.
Hundreds have been wounded.

Witnesses said troops had opened fire on protesters in the
eastern town of Nijagadh, 200 km (125 miles) east of Kathmandu.
One person died and five were wounded, they said by telephone.

The Nepali Congress, one of the parties spearheading the
protests, also said one person had been killed but a district
official reached by telephone denied there had been any firing.

The ambassadors of the United States, China and India met
Gyanendra on Sunday and were believed to have asked him to take
action to end the agitation, diplomatic sources said. But he
seemed unlikely to relent, they said.

The sources said moves he could take included calling the
seven-party alliance leading the campaign for talks, releasing
all those detained in the protests and handing over power to
political parties ahead of elections.

But they said that, while he might take some initiatives,
he was unlikely to meet all the protesters' demands.

"He will not tolerate any clipping of his powers," said one
diplomat. "And whatever he offers may not satisfy the movement.
The movement has gone far beyond even what the parties had

Gyanendra sacked the government and assumed full power in
February 2005, vowing to crush a decade-old Maoist revolt in
which more than 13,000 people have died.

He has offered to hold elections by April next year, but
activists say he is not to be trusted and should immediately
hand over power to an all-party government.


In the capital, Kathmandu, unrest rocked the tourist
quarter of Thamel for the second day, as police burst tear gas
shells and charged at slogan-shouting youths to break up a

Thamel is a maze of alleys full of backpacker hotels, bars,
restaurants, shops and tour agencies that has been largely
immune to the anti-monarchy campaign.

Protests took place elsewhere in the city as well, but they
were not as intense as in previous days.

Political parties opposed to King Gyanendra, who have
called for a mass rally on Thursday, vowed there would be no

"There will be a storm on Thursday but no lull today," said
Amrit Bohra, a leader of the Communist Party of Nepal (UML).
"Protests are taking place, scattered all over the city. They
have not fizzled out."

A strike in support of the campaign has sent food prices
shooting up, and triggered a fuel shortage. Hundreds of cars
and motorcycles queued at gas stations, witnesses said, and
pump owners had begun impromptu rationing.

"Petrol supply has completely stopped," said Harendra
Bahadur Shreshtha, chief of the Consumers Forum, a private
group. "There is supply good for one month, but the government
is busy in suppressing the movement and is not paying any

Supplies of fuel are controlled by the government.

Cars were being given no more than 5 liters of petrol per
day and motorcycles 3 liters, pump owners said.

Neelam Adhikary, a Kathmandu housewife, said prices of
essentials had surged.

"Onions used to sell at 20 rupees (about 30 U.S. cents) per
kilo, now they are 60 rupees," she said. "Salt was 11 rupees
for one kilo, now it is 45."

Political parties said the pain was temporary and asked
people to bear with the situation.

"We know the strike and the movement had caused problems to
ordinary people, but this is temporary and we should all bear
it," Prakash Sharan Mahat, a former minister and one of the
leaders of the pro-democracy campaign, told hundreds of
demonstrators gathered in a western suburb of the capital on

On Sunday, the political parties urged people to stop
paying taxes and electricity and water bills until a democratic
government was formed. They called for a mass protest on
Thursday and for all transport, including air services, to halt
for the day.

(Additional reporting by Gopal Sharma)