April 25, 2006

Part victory, part protest on Nepal streets

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of people
flooded the streets of Nepal's capital on Tuesday after King
Gyanendra announced a deal to end weeks of unrest, but the
rally was part victory celebration and part continued protest.

Gyanendra announced on Monday night that he had reinstated
the country's dissolved parliament, meeting a key demand of the
seven-party alliance, which swiftly welcomed the decision and
called off their protests.

Maoist rebels, who control vast swathes of the countryside,
denounced the king's concession as a sham.

On Tuesday, the ring road around Kathmandu turned into a
sea of people waving party flags and chanting slogans, some of
them heralding the rebirth of democracy, others still angry at
the monarch.

Tens of thousands marched into the city center and crowded
near the palace, demanding the King leave the country and
punishment for those responsible for firing on and beating
demonstrators during 19 days of mass protests that left at
least 12 dead and thousands wounded.

Rows of riot police blocked the demonstrators less than 500
meters (550 yards) from the palace, but there was no violence.

The crowds made no attempt to break through but tore down
metal signboards carrying excerpts from the king's speeches and
shouted "Gyanendra, thief, leave the country."

In the evening, police fired teargas to disperse a few
thousands demonstrators listening to speeches in a stadium.

But elsewhere, most of the crowds had dispersed, and the
streets were thronged with shoppers and people out for a
stroll. Youngsters played football in parks and Western
tourists were out bicycling as trucks took riot police back to


The seven parties that have led the crippling anti-monarchy
campaign named former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, 84,
as the new head of government and said the first job would be
to ensure the Maoists, fighting a decade-long rebellion, joined
the political mainstream.

But the rebels, who insist on elections for a special
assembly to write a new constitution, rebuked the king and the

Maoist leader Prachanda said the parties had committed
"another historic mistake" and encouraged the people to
continue protesting until the parties declared elections for an

"The proclamation is a sham and a conspiracy against the
Nepali people," Prachanda said in a statement. "Our party
firmly rejects this."

He also called for a blockade of Kathmandu, a city of 1.5
million people, and district capitals.

In a nod to the Maoists, who have a loose alliance with the
seven parties, leaders said work on an assembly was a priority.

"We will be doing all we can to bring Maoists to the
mainstream of peace and democracy. Now we have to create an
environment for an interim government that will have Maoist
participation," said Minendra Rijal, an alliance leader.

The Maoists have been trying to end the monarchy and
establish a communist republic and more than 13,000 people have
died in the insurgency since 1996.

Giant neighbors India and China welcomed the king's move.

"This is a victory for the people of Nepal, who have
displayed extraordinary courage and reaffirmed their faith and
commitment to freedom and democracy. The future of Nepal is
safe in their hands," the Indian Foreign Ministry said in a

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said the government
welcomed efforts by the King and parties to achieve political
reconciliation and restore stability.

Nepal's parliament has been dissolved since 2002, and
Gyanendra assumed absolute power last year, declaring a state
of emergency and vowing to crush the escalating Maoist

Speaking on national television late on Monday, the king
said he was calling back the assembly.

Gyanendra had offered last week to give power to a prime
minister nominated by the seven parties, but they said this was
not enough.

(Additional reporting by Simon Denyer)