June 2, 2006

“Hang Gyanendra” thousands shout at Nepal rebel rally

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Their fists raised in the air and
clutching red flags, tens of thousands of Nepalis berated King
Gyanendra on Friday as Maoist rebels held their first mass
rally in the capital in over three years.

"We will burn the crown and we will run the country," the
people shouted as they filled into a dust-choked public ground
just 500 meters (yards) from the royal palace for the rally in

Dozens of soldiers carrying automatic rifles stood in front
of the heavily guarded palace. Scores of riot police maintained
a vigil outside the venue where red hammer and sickle Maoist
banners fluttered.

Armoured cars and soldiers holding machine guns manned
major road intersections.

The Maoists have called the rally to build pressure on
political parties to hold speedy elections to an assembly that
will determine the country's political future.

Weeks of violent street protests forced Gyanendra in April
to give up his absolute grip power, reinstate the parliament he
disbanded in 2002 and return power to political parties.

The Maoists have held rallies outside the capital to win
support since Nepal's new multi-party government last month
matched an earlier ceasefire declared by the militants.

"We want to build a new Nepal," said Chhemata Biswokarma, a
20-year-old woman who had traveled 200 km (125 miles) to attend
the Kathmandu rally. Chants of "Gyanendra thief, leave the
country" and "Hang Gyanendra" were also heard.


Thousands of posters bearing the portraits of rebel leader
Prachanda had been put up in the ancient temple-studded city,
although organizers said he would not be present.

"Rumors are being spread against the rally that we will
display our arms," chief rebel negotiator and Maoist spokesman
Krishna Bahadur Mahara told reporters.

"We will not carry arms or wear combat dress," he said. "It
will be a peaceful rally."

Media reports said people would be brought by the rebels in
hundreds of buses to fill the venue.

"Unconditional constituent assembly," read a huge Maoist
banner that hung from an iron railing near the venue.

Last week, the multi-party government and the Maoists held
their first meeting since 2003 and agreed to hold elections to
a constituent assembly to decide the monarchy's future, a key
Maoist demand.

Mahara said the parliament should be dissolved and the
constitution scrapped before that.

"We are demanding a national political conference to draft
an interim constitution and an interim government to organize
early elections for the constituent assembly," he said.

The Maoist insurgency has claimed more than 13,000 lives
since 1996 and wrecked the economy of the tourism and
aid-dependent kingdom.