April 19, 2006

India steps up pressure on Nepal king

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - India stepped up pressure on Nepal's
King Gyanendra on Wednesday to restore democracy, sending a
special envoy and its top diplomat to hold talks with the
monarch to try to defuse a fortnight of crippling protests.

A woman hit on the face by a tear gas shell during a
protest died on Tuesday, taking the death toll in the campaign
to six. Hundreds have been wounded in police action against
protesters and hundreds of others arrested.

The anti-monarchy campaign by a seven-party alliance has
brought the kingdom to a standstill with nationwide street
protests and a general strike, which has stopped the movement
of food and fuel. Giant neighbor India has expressed worry
because of the long, porous border it shares with Nepal.

"I bring prayers and hope that Nepal will get out of the
present difficult situation and return to peace and
prosperity," the Indian envoy, Karan Singh, told reporters at
Kathmandu's airport.

Earlier, Singh told an Indian TV channel: "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."

Singh is the scion of the royal family of Kashmir and is
related to King Gyanendra by marriage. He was to meet political
representatives later on Wednesday and call on the king on

Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, the country's top
diplomat, is also in Kathmandu and might accompany Singh when
he calls on the king, local officials said.


Diplomats have said events are moving toward a climax.

One flashpoint could come on Thursday at mass rallies
called by the political parties, which have vowed to bring out
hundreds of thousands of people on the streets.

Sporadic protests took place in the capital and other towns
on Wednesday but activists appeared to be reserving their
strength for Thursday.

About 250 school and university teachers were arrested when
they staged a rally in the western town of Pokhara, where
authorities have clamped a curfew to block anti-monarchy

Fifty teachers were arrested in a protest in Kathmandu.

The United States and India have called repeatedly for the
restoration of democracy.

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 king came under further pressure on Tuesday when three
top human rights groups called for international sanctions
against the monarch and top Nepali officials, accusing them of
being "impervious to the suffering" of the Nepalese people.

"He (the king) and his officials have been responsible for
serious human rights violations, including the arbitrary arrest
and detention of thousands of critics, torture and
ill-treatment of detainees ...," Amnesty International, Human
Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists said
in a statement.

Despite the pressure, the World Bank's representative to
the country said the economy could hold out for months even if
Nepal was internationally isolated.

"How long has Burma (Myanmar) survived?" Ken-ichi Ohashi
said in an interview with Reuters. "I think evidence is pretty
clear that if a country decides to endure some hardship, the
economy just doesn't collapse very easily.

"It seems pretty obvious to me that the biggest pressure
comes from whether people come out in large numbers.

"If a million people came out, I think the king would have
certainly have to take notice. Donors threatening to cut aid I
don't think is going to do it."