April 23, 2006

Nepal troops impose curfew as more protests planned

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepali soldiers and police enforced a
daytime curfew in the capital Kathmandu on Sunday, with orders
to shoot to kill to prevent a planned march by anti-monarchy
protesters to the palace of King Gyanendra.

Riot police carrying shields and batons fanned out across
the city, backed by troops wielding submachineguns and
automatic rifles, and people rushed home through streets
littered with burned tires and smoldering logs placed to block
the troops.

Small groups of protesters gathered on the outskirts of the
city before the curfew took effect, and political parties said
they planned to defy the curfew and march toward the center
later, on the 18th consecutive day of protests.

Over 100,000 people broke the curfew to enter the capital
from the outskirts on Saturday and police opened fire in at
least two places to beat them back. Just a kilometer (half a
mile) from the palace, they repeatedly fired teargas at

At least 150 people were wounded in the police action and a
stampede that broke out when the marchers were dispersed,
witnesses and political activists said.

Sunday's curfew -- the latest in a string of restrictions
to try to halt protests -- began at 9 a.m. (0315 GMT) and would
last until 8 p.m. (1415 GMT), state radio and television

On Friday, King Gyanendra offered to hand over executive
power to a seven-party alliance that has led more than two
weeks of protests, but the parties rejected the overture.

He did not address a key demand of the parties and
protesters -- that the constitution be changed to curb his
powers. That is also a demand of Maoist rebels who control vast
swathes of the countryside and entered a loose alliance with
political parties last year to curb the monarch's power.

"The king is looking for a safe landing, but what he has
offered is not enough," said Naresh Thapa, a 30-year-old driver
wearing a blue baseball cap and standing with a group of
protesters in western Kathmandu before the curfew took effect.

Using a special constitutional provision, the king sacked
the government and took full powers in February 2005, vowing to
crush a decade-long Maoist revolt in which more than 13,000
people have died.

Political parties also want parliament, dissolved in 2002,
to be revived and the army -- which is loyal to the king -- put
under its control.

The seven-party alliance has been agitating since April 6
to force Gyanendra to restore multi-party democracy. At least
12 people have been killed and hundreds wounded in police
action against protesters since then.

The impoverished kingdom has been virtually at a standstill
with the movement of goods and people blocked by a general
strike and crippling street protests across the nation.