Saturday, April 22, 2006

Embattled King of Nepal Offers Gesture to Protesters

Manish Swarup/Associated Press

Police officers used clubs to break up an antimonarchy demonstration Friday in Katmandu. King Gyanendra said later that he would turn over power to a prime minister chosen by the political parties, but his statement seemed to bring little relief in the national crisis.

Published: April 22, 2006
KATMANDU, Nepal, April 21 — Nepal's embattled King Gyanendra said Friday evening that he would turn over the reins of government to a prime minister chosen by the country's principal political parties, but his gesture brought little relief to a nation on the verge of paralysis.
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Tomas van Houtryve for The New York Times
A photograph of King Gyanendra landed in a ditch Friday with other items tossed there by demonstrators in Katmandu, the Nepalese capital.
"Executive power of the Kingdom of Nepal, which was in our safekeeping, shall, from this day, be returned to the people," the king said, in a long-awaited, surprisingly short address on state-owned television.
Earlier Friday, more than 100,000 demonstrators flooded the heavily fortified main road in Katmandu, the capital, in defiance of a daylong shoot-on-sight curfew, gathering in the largest pro-democracy protests to date. By late evening, there was no official reaction from the country's political leaders, who were huddled in meetings and were to render their verdict on Saturday.
In a statement that said nothing about the king's address, the seven-party alliance that has led the demonstrators vowed to intensify the protests.
"The movement will continue like this until further notice," it read. "We call upon people from all walks of life to take to the streets and bring everything in the capital and all across the country to a complete halt."
The mood on the streets, swept by 16 days of often violent confrontations between pro-democracy protesters and the security forces, remained uneasy. At least 12 people have been killed by police officers and soldiers in the demonstrations, hundreds have been injured and several thousand arrested.
"There's nothing for those who were killed in these protests," Raj Narayan Thakur, 26, said of the king's speech, as bonfires burned on a street in a western suburb, Chabahil, and protesters milled around in the pitch dark.
"It doesn't work," said Bishwokiran Shakya, 46, with a brisk wave of his hand. "No good."
It remained unclear this evening whether the leaders of the seven-party alliance would seize the king's offer and, if they did, whether they could sell it to either the Nepalese people who have poured into the streets or the Maoist rebels with whom they have linked arms in a effort to wrest power from the palace.
In an accord signed last fall, the politicians agreed to the central Maoist demand for a referendum on the Constitution; in exchange, the Maoists agreed, among other things, to play by the rules of parliamentary democracy.
The king, who took over the government 14 months ago in what he said was an effort to defeat a Maoist rebellion, agreed to give up control of the state. But he did not address the two principal demands of the politicians and their foot soldiers on the street: restoration of the elected Parliament, suspended in May 2002, and a referendum to review the Constitution and decide whether Nepal still needs a king.
Calls for an end to monarchy, which is enshrined in the Nepalese Constitution, have grown louder and more brazen in the past weeks. The king's speech made it plain that he was in favor of maintaining the status quo: a multiparty democracy with a constitutional monarchy.
He spoke hours after Katmandu was engulfed in the largest protests to date, as several large neighborhood rallies converged on the sealed Ring Road that circles the city center. They shouted gleefully for the king's head, burned effigies and, at one point, toppled a small tin-roofed police post and set it alight, as a gantlet of police officers in riot gear, backed by soldiers, watched.
Apparently anticipating further discontent, the government extended the curfew on Friday evening until midnight.
There was no question that after two weeks of angry protests and a heavy-handed state crackdown, it will be harder for those clamoring for an end to Gyanendra's rule and the establishment of a democratic republic to accept any political deal that maintains the monarchy.
Favorable nods for the king came from abroad. Nepal's neighbor and most vital ally, India, swiftly endorsed the king's offer, saying in a statement that the king's words "should now pave the way for the restoration of political stability and economic recovery of the country."

Why the world is watching Nepal
By Paul Reynolds World Affairs correspondent, BBC News website

Tourists hoping to visit a mountain Shangri-La have been surprisedWhile it would be an exaggeration to say that Nepal occupies a strategic position in the world - isolated as it is in the Himalayas - its future is being watched closely.
Partly this is for sentimental reasons. The kingdom used to be the destination of choice for thousands of Western hippies who thought of it as a mountain Shangri-la.
The one-time guru of the Beatles, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, had connections in Nepal and once broadcast his vision of saving the world by "Transcendental Meditation" on Nepali television.
So there is a great interest in the West to see how that quiet and peaceful place (perhaps not so quiet underneath) has developed into the scene of civil war, repression, riot and uprising.
It is the government of India that is the most concerned. India itself has considerable problems with Maoist rebels
The Yogi's message does not seem to have worked. But then the 1960s and their message of flower power are a long time ago. The world has moved on in more violent ways, and Nepal is a part of that movement.
Then there is the Everest trek that keeps Nepal in a wider public eye. Currently teams of climbers are preparing for their attempts on the summit during the calm period between now and the end of May. They have largely escaped the recent troubles, although two climbers were injured last November when Maoist rebels attacked their vehicle on its way to base camp.
And there is the added factor in Britain because Nepal is home to the Ghurka fighters who serve in the British army.


We salute people of Nepal: US
Kantipur Report

KATHMANDU, April 21 - The Unites States on Friday saluted the courage and resilience of the people of Nepal in their struggle for democracy and expressed the hope that King Gyanendra, who announced handing power back to people in his address today, would live up to his words.
“We are pleased that King Gyanendra’s message today made it clear that that sovereignty resides with the people,” said Sean McCormack, spokesman of the US Department of State. “We expect the king to live up to his words, and allow the parties to form the government.”
McCormack also urged the political parties – the seven-party alliance – to respond quickly by choosing a prime minister and a cabinet. “We urge all sides to refrain from violence to allow the restoration of democracy to take place swiftly and peacefully.”

The king has taken bold step: Karan Singh

Minutes after the nationally-televised address, India's Special Envoy Dr Karan Singh has welcomed the king's offer, saying the king has taken a bold step.
"I think it is the right thing to do to difuse the situation," he told the Post, adding, "Now the political parties have the shoulder the responsibility and take the process forward. The sooner that can happen the better, it will be."
The government of India is expected to make a statement along the same lines soon.


Full text: Nepal king's speech

The text of Nepal's King Gyanendra address to the nation, broadcast by Radio Nepal, in which announced handing over political power to the people and asked a seven-party alliance to choose a new prime minister.

Beloved Countrymen,
You are all aware that given the situation prevailing in the country then, we were compelled to take the decision of 1 February 2005 to set in motion a meaningful exercise in multiparty democracy by activating all elected bodies, ensuring peace and security and a corruption-free good government through the collective wisdom, understanding and the united efforts of all the Nepalese.

By supporting our decision, the Nepalese people made amply clear their desire for peace and democracy and the civil servants demonstrated sincerity towards their duty. We are appreciative of this. We also have high regard for the dutifulness, valour and discipline displayed by the security personnel by upholding their glorious tradition.

By visiting different parts of the country we made honest endeavours to acquaint ourselves with the hopes and aspirations of our people, mitigate their hardships and boost their morale. We also called on the political parties to enter into a dialogue in the interest of the nation and the people afflicted by violence and terror. However, this did not materialise.
The ideals of democracy can only be realised through the active participation of political parties.
In keeping with the tradition of the Shah dynasty to reign in accordance with the popular will, in the greater interest of the nation and people and our unflinching commitment towards constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy, we through this proclamation affirm that the executive power of the Kingdom of Nepal, which was in our safekeeping, shall from this day be returned to the people and the exercise according to Article 35 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal-1990.

As the source of sovereign authority is inherent in the people, harmony and understanding must be preserved in the interest of the nation and people in an environment of peace and security.
While safeguarding multiparty democracy, the nation must be taken ahead along the road to peace and prosperity by bringing into the democratic mainstream those who have deviated from the constitutional path. Similarly, a meaningful exercise in democracy must be ensured with the activation of representative bodies through elections as soon as possible.
We therefore call on the seven-party alliance to recommend a name for the post of the prime minister at the earliest for the constitution of a council of ministers which will bear the responsibility of governing the country in accordance with the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal-1990. The present Council of Ministers will continue to function until the appointment of the prime minister.

May Lord Pashupatinath bless us all.
Jai Nepal