April 20, 2006

Protesters prepare to defy Nepal curfew

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of anti-monarchy
protesters gathered outside the city limits of the Nepali
capital Kathmandu on Thursday preparing to defy a strict curfew
imposed to block a pro-democracy rally, witnesses said.

Security forces have orders to shoot violators but
activists said they would not be prevented from holding the
rally to force King Gyanendra to restore multi-party democracy.

The city of 1.5 million people was deserted except for
police and troops on patrol. But at various places on the
outskirts, activists had gathered, shouting "Long live
democracy, down with autocracy," witnesses said.

In the Maharajgunj suburb, riot police backed by soldiers
armed with automatic rifles faced about 20,000 people singing
revolutionary songs and chanting "What do the people want? We
want a democratic republic."

There was no violence but the situation was extremely
tense, witnesses said.

Women with children in their arms were in the crowd and
residents were throwing water from balconies overhead to cool
down the demonstrators on a hot sunny day.

"The king is afraid of the people, that's why he has
imposed a curfew," said Gaura Prasai, a 47 year-old housewife.
"Unless we break the curfew, he is not going to give in. We
will try to break it."

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.

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).

Diplomats, including ambassadors, and even government
ministers were also not allowed outdoors. Police were carrying
out emergency services.

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.

On Thursday, several hundred people took out a procession
in the town of Bhaktapur, near Kathmandu, where a curfew had
also been imposed, witnesses said. There was no violence.

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 sent by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh called on the king on Thursday, but there were no
immediate details on what was discussed.