Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Nepalis cautious over king's move

They came in their thousands, young and old, men and women, all marching along the ring road that encircles the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu

Tens of thousands of Nepalese had planned to attend a major opposition rally in protest against the king. Instead, they found themselves rallying for victory.
The king's late night announcement that he was restoring the country's parliament has been welcomed by the political parties which on Tuesday named veteran leader Girija Prasad Koirala as their candidate for prime minister.
"The new parliament will meet on Friday, an interim government will be formed and we will pass resolutions on beginning a dialogue with the Maoist rebels as well as holding elections to a constituent assembly," Communist Party (UML) leader Madhav Kumar Nepal told the BBC.
However, in a strong statement, the Maoists rejected the king's move and said by welcoming the royal proclamation, the parties were making a big mistake.
Senior Maoist leader, Baburam Bhattarai, told the BBC Nepali service that merely restoring the parliament was not going to resolve the problems and that the rebels planned to continue fighting against government forces.
The Maoists and the seven party opposition alliance struck a 12-point agreement last year, which included agreeing to set up an interim government and a constituent assembly.
The Maoists control vast swathes of the countryside and are also heavily armed, one reason why they command a high degree of influence.
Many people also believe that the Maoists have not given up on their goal of turning Nepal into a communist republic.
Not surprisingly, the mood on the streets of Kathmandu is mixed.
While there is an overwhelming sense of relief that the protests have come to an end, many feel that merely restoring parliament is not enough.
The neighbourhood of Kalanki, in the south-east of the capital, has been one of the flashpoints of the rallies - three protesters were killed here last week, shot dead by police.

Some 20,000 protesters gathered here on Tuesday, chanting and cheering.
But in a reminder of the violence that had taken place, many in the crowd held posters and placards with pictures of the dead men.
"We want justice for those who have died," said one protester, Madhav Gurung.
"The police commander who ordered the shooting must be arrested and tried," he said.
Bikash Sharma, 29, teaches English at a local college.
He said the protesters would not be satisfied until the king was overthrown.
"A constituent assembly is needed so that we can have the people's mandate. The king must be replaced by the people's man."
While many welcomed the appointment of a new prime minister, others warned that the political parties should not squander the opportunity.
"The politicians should not fight among each other as they have in the past and try and pursue personal agendas," said another protester, Gyanendra Bhattarai.
"GP Koirala needs to improve on his previous performance," he said.
Mr Koirala has been prime minister on three previous occasions but Nepal's experience of democratic government has been an unhappy one.
The country has had 13 prime ministers since parliamentary democracy was introduced in 1990. Internal bickering and political rivalries meant that all the prime ministers were unseated by rivals before they had completed a term.
Moreover government corruption was seen as a widespread problem by Many Nepalis.

By Sanjoy Majumder BBC News, Kathmandu

From BBC

Nepalis celebrate protest victory

Thousands of Nepalis have held a victory rally in theKathmandu after the king gave in to their demands to reinstate parliament. The seven party opposition alliance said it had called off its weeks of demonstrations and a nationwide strike.

It has chosen former Prime Minister GP Koirala to head a new government.

But Maoist rebels behind a 10-year insurgency rejected King Gyanendra's deal with the opposition, and vowed to continue blockading the capital.

People gathered for the victory rally, waving party and national flags, and shouting slogans against the king from the roofs of vehicles.

"Gyanendra, thief, leave the country," shouted some protesters who had gathered near the royal palace, saying they would not stop demonstrating until the king was stripped of his powers.


Meanwhile the city began to return to normal, after a crippling strike. Taxis were back on the streets, shops were reopened, and mobile phone connections were restored. Riot police were still in evidence, though.

Despite the hardships imposed by the strike, Nepalis insisted it had been worthwhile.

"It is only a small sacrifice for the good of the country," said Sabita Tamang, who has earned nothing from her grocery store for three weeks.

"The prices of food went up so high I had to cut down on what I eat," said Rajendra Sahi, a college student.

He added: "The people have done their part. Now it is the leaders who need to do theirs.

" The king assumed direct powers in February 2005, saying opposition parties were failing to manage the Maoist insurgency.

Communist Party (UML) leader Madhav Kumar Nepal told the BBC the formation of a new government would be "the first step towards a constituent assembly", which would be tasked with redrawing the constitution.

Maoists' next move

But the Maoists said in agreeing the deal with the king, the opposition had betrayed an agreement it made with them in November, which called for fresh elections and an end to an "autocratic monarchy".

The king's concession was "a new ploy to break the Nepali people and save his autocratic monarchy", said Maoist leader Prachanda in a statement.

Until the November agreement was implemented in full, they would blockade Kathmandu and all district capitals, the statement added.

Another senior rebel, Baburam Bhattarai, told the BBC: "The minimum demand is a free election to a constituent assembly."

King's address

During the recent protests, the demonstrators had repeatedly defied shoot-on-sight curfews despite the deaths of 14 people. Girija Prasad Koirala will head the new government In a late-night TV address on Monday, King Gyanendra expressed his "heartfelt condolences to all those who have lost their lives in the people's movement and wish the injured speedy recovery". He added: "We are confident that the nation will forge ahead towards sustainable peace, progress, full-fledged democracy and national unity." He said the lower house of parliament would reconvene on Friday. The US welcomed the king's announcement and said he should now consider assuming a "ceremonial role". More than 13,000 people have died in the Maoist insurgency. Violence has escalated since the rebels ended a truce in January - although they declared a ceasefire in Kathmandu this month as the street protests began.