April 19, 2006

Nepal capital deserted, protesters gather outside

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Anti-monarchy protesters gathered
outside the city limits of the Nepali capital Kathmandu on
Thursday where a strict curfew has been imposed to block a
pro-democracy rally.

Security forces have orders to shoot violators. Activists
have said they will bring out hundreds of thousands on the
street to force King Gyanendra to restore multi-party

The city of 1.5 million people was deserted except for
police and troops on patrol but about 200 people carrying red
banners of protest had gathered in the suburb of Kalanki, a few
hundred yards (meters) outside city limits, witnesses said.

A squad of riot police was on hand, but had made no move to
break up the gathering, they said.

The gates of Narayanhity Palace, the king's city residence,
were closed and an armored car with a machine gun on top was on
patrol. All shops on the usually busy Durbar Street leading to
the palace were shuttered and guests were barred from leaving
hotel premises.

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

Political parties said they would defy the curfew later 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. The ban came
into effect at 2 a.m. (2015 GMT Wednesday) and will last until
8 p.m. (1415 GMT).

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 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 the two 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.