April 19, 2006

Troops patrol Nepal capital’s empty streets

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepali police and troops patrolled
deserted streets of the capital Kathmandu on Thursday as a
curfew imposed to block a massive anti-monarchy protest went
into effect.

All roads of the city of 1.5 million were empty of traffic,
residents said. Police pickets had been set up at every major
intersection and troops were on patrol, they said.

"I can't even see a dog on the street," said Manohar
Acharya, a resident of the New Road business district.

Despite warnings that violators will be shot, activists
have vowed to defy the curfew and bring hundreds of thousands
of people onto the streets. But there were no signs of any
protests early in the day.

"To protest peacefully is the fundamental and natural right
of the people," said Krishna Prasad Sitaula, a senior leader of
the Nepali Congress, the country's biggest political party.

"The ban and curfew orders are undemocratic and
unconstitutional. We will disobey and will hold our peaceful
protest program."

Unlike previous times when curfews were imposed,
journalists too have been told to stay indoors. It came into
effect at 2 a.m. (2015 GMT Wednesday) and will last until 8
p.m. (1415 GMT).

"Residents are urged not to come out of their premises and
security forces could shoot curfew violators," a government
statement issued on Wednesday evening said.

At least eight people have been killed and hundreds wounded
in police action against demonstrators since a seven-party
alliance launched crippling protests against King Gyanendra 15
days ago to demand the restoration of multi-party democracy.

Tens of thousands have attended protests every day in
Kathmandu, but many more have demonstrated in district towns. A
general strike, part of the campaign, has prevented the
movement of goods and people across the impoverished landlocked

The parties have called for mass rallies on Thursday and
have predicted hundreds of thousands will attend.

The latest deaths came in the town of Chandragadi, 600 km
(375 miles) east of Kathmandu, where security forces opened
fire on protesters on Wednesday, killing two people. Witnesses
said dozens of others were wounded and more might have died.


The government freed two of the top political prisoners in
the country on Wednesday, but there was no other sign the king
was considering meeting any of the demands of the alliance.

One of them, Madhav Kumar Nepal of the Communist Party of
Nepal (UML), immediately called for continuing the campaign.

"The movement will continue in an effective and forceful
manner," Nepal said. "We will continue until full sovereignty
is returned to the people."

Analysts said the king needed to do more than freeing
political prisoners.

"This is too little too late," said Lok Raj Baral,
executive chairman of the Nepal Center for Contemporary
Studies, a private think tank.

"The arrests and release of political leaders are not
significant. How the demands put up by the opposition are
fulfilled will determine the course of events."

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.

India, which shares a long, porous border with Nepal, is
leading international pressure on the king to restore

A special envoy and India's foreign secretary, the
country's top diplomat, were scheduled to call on the king on

"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," the envoy, Karan Singh, told
an Indian TV channel.