April 18, 2006

Nepal events near climax: diplomats

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Anti-monarchy protesters kept up the
pressure in the Nepali capital 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 gathered in various parts of Kathmandu and
attempted to start a procession, but police blocked them. No
one was hurt.

Outside the capital, police fired rubber bullets to break
up protests in two towns, injuring about a dozen, witnesses

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.

Food and fuel in the capital is running short and anger
against Gyanendra is mounting.

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."

One flashpoint could come on Thursday when the parties have
called for mass rallies, and have vowed to bring out hundreds
of thousands of people on the street.

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

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

Although the powerful army remains loyal to the king,
protests are spreading from the street to the civil service.
Home Ministry officials held a demonstration at their offices
on Tuesday and about a dozen were arrested, witnesses said.

The United States and India, Nepal's giant neighbor, have
both called repeatedly for the restoration of democracy.


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 former
ambassador to the United States, was expected to have an
audience with the king, an Indian Foreign Ministry statement

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

"The purpose of my going there really is to meet with the
king, to meet with the leaders of the political parties, to
assess the general situation which, as you say, is
deteriorating very rapidly," Singh, who is related to Gyanendra
by marriage, told the Indian TV channel NDTV.

"It is not our intention to interfere in the internal
affairs of another country but the last thing that we would
want is for Nepal to dissolve into chaos because India's vital
security interests are involved, our human interests are
involved, there's an open border between Nepal and India and
our commitment to parliamentary democracy is there."

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."

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)