April 18, 2006

Nepal events reaching a climax: diplomats

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Anti-monarchy protests persisted in
the Nepali capital Kathmandu on Tuesday despite bad weather as
diplomats said the movement against King Gyanendra appeared to
be reaching a climax.

It was the 13th day of a general strike and protest
campaign launched by a seven-party political alliance which
wants the king to restore multi-party democracy.

Hundreds of people gathered in various parts of the capital
and attempted to start a procession, but were prevented by
police. No one was injured.

At least five people have been killed and hundreds wounded
in police action against protesters during the campaign, which
has brought the impoverished nation to a standstill.

Diplomats said time appeared to be running out for the

"We could see him toppled if he doesn't do something in the
next few weeks or days," said one. "I am very afraid we are
moving into a revolutionary situation."

The king held talks with the U.S., Chinese and Indian
ambassadors on Sunday, and indicated he could meet some of the
protesters' demands. But diplomats said they knew of no

"He has to hand over power to the political parties," the
diplomat said. "And if he does not, it's not looking good."

In another sign of mounting pressure, New Delhi said Indian
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was sending a special envoy to
Kathmandu on Wednesday.

The envoy, Karan Singh, a member of parliament and a former
ambassador to the United States, was expected to have an
audience with King Gyanendra, an Indian Foreign Ministry
statement said.

"He is also expected to meet political party leaders in
Nepal," it added.


Giant neighbor India has been deeply concerned by the
turmoil in Nepal and Singh was expected to strongly urge the
king to immediately start talks with the political parties to
defuse the crisis, a Foreign Ministry official said.

The president of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Haruhiko
Kuroda, urged the international community to remain engaged
with Nepal and said it would be premature for donors to
consider any suspension of aid to the impoverished kingdom.

"I don't think we can decide lightly on this very serious
issue," Kuroda told Reuters in Manila, while acknowledging that
the instability had made the ADB's poverty reduction and other
work in Nepal more difficult.

"We have to be very careful because people are suffering."

The parties have called for mass rallies on Thursday, the
15th day of the campaign, and have vowed to bring out hundreds
of thousands of people on the street. But they have not
specified what will happen after that.

King 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 cannot be trusted and should immediately hand
over power to an all-party government.

The Maoists have formed a loose alliance with the political
parties and have not launched any operations in the Kathmandu
Valley since the start of the protest campaign.

Under an agreement with the parties, the Maoists have
agreed to join the political mainstream once the royalist
government is overthrown.

"It is no more a movement by the seven political parties or
anybody, it has become a popular movement," Maoist chief
Prachanda and his deputy Baburam Bhattarai said in a joint
statement on Monday.

"All it needs is a final push."

(Additional reporting by Y.P. Rajesh in NEW DELHI and John
O'Callaghan in MANILA)