by Chiranjibi Paudyal
American Reporter Correspondent
April 23, 2006
THOUSANDS MARCH IN NEPAL TO URGE KING'S ABDICATION; GYANENDRA RELENTS, WILL RECONVENE PARLIAMENT AND CALL ELECTIONS
LONDON, April 24, 2006 (Update 10:03pm EDT) -- Nepal's King Gyanendra has been under heavy pressure to restore democracy and save the monarchy as anti-monarchy demonstrations have intensified across the country since April 6, leaving 14 dead, more than 2,000 injured and thousands of pro-democracy supporters and prominent citizens detained. Today, he finally relented, agreeing to reinstate Parliament and call elections, but stopped short of accepting a constitutional referendum that would decide the future of the monarchy.
In a nationally-televised speech, Gyanendra spoke as planing for more demonstrations on Tuesday were interrupted by celebrations of his announcment.
"We are confident this house will contribute to the overall welfare of Nepal and the Nepali people. We are confident that the nation will forge ahead toward sustainable peace, progress, full-fledged democracy and national unity," Gyanendra said, appearing pale and shaken by events. A record number of protestors have poured into the streets of cities and towns across the country, including the capital city, Kathmandu, over the past several weeks, defying a royal ban on political rallies and a curfew to demand the end of king's rule and establishment of full-fledged democracy in the tiny, landlocked and highly strategic Himalayan nation that lies between India and China.
News agencies said some 200,000 people shouted slogans like, "Gyanendra, leave the country - we want complete democracy!" Political parties estimate that there were actually half a million people in a demonstration in Kathmandu, a city of 1.5 million, last week. That was the largest demonstration in the Himalayan nation's history.
Although observers said security forces used excessive force to control the cheering crowds, the pro-democracy protest was peaceful.
Meanwhile, the king was vacationing in Pokhara, a resort city 125 miles west of Kathmandu during almost all of the recent demonstrations and apparently did not say a single word about them until today. A steady flow of threatening statements came from his cabinet ministers, however.
Today, he took note of the demonstrations and the deaths and injuries during them, saying, "we extend our gheartfelt condolences to all those who have lost their lives to the people's movement."
Of the 2,000 people injured, about 100 are said to be in serious condition because security forces loyal to the king fired bullets and tear gas shells and used charged batons to control the demonstrators. According to doctors involved in their treatment, most of the seriously injured suffered head traumas.
Working together in a rare show of unanimity, the country's seven major political parties, including the Nepali Congress, which is the oldest democratic party, and the CPN/UML, the nation's largest communist party, launched a massive movement with the support of Maoist guerillas and ordinary peoplefrom all walks of life to bring the king under the constitution.
Despite stern suppressive measures adopted by the King's government, tens of thousands of demonstrators, including doctors, journalists, lawyers, teachers, government employees, businessmen and laborers, came to the streets chanting slogans against Gyanendra, who dissolved the House of Representatives three years ago, sacked the elected prime minister and declared himself chairman of the cabinet on February 1 last year. The constitution of Nepal, promulgated after similar protests by the political parties in 1990, does not give extraordinary rights to the king. After he emptied Parliament, however, he nonetheless gained support from the army, which is dominated by his relatives, and feudal groups dependent on the monarchy.
Prominent leaders including Madhav Kumar Nepal, the general secretary of the Communist Party of Nepal/United Marxist and Leninist, Ram Chandra Paudyal, the general secretary of the Nepali Congress, former speaker Daman Nath Dhungana, former justice of the supreme court Laxman Aryal, human rights defender Krishna Pahadi, civic leaders Dr. Mathura Shrestha and Dr. Devendra Raj Pandey are among some 1,500 people arrested during the demonstartions and still in custody.
The seven political parties called a general strike on April 6. The parties represent more than 95 percent of the dissolved House of Representatives and local elected officials. Schools, colleges and markets shut down, roads emptied and the price of gasoline has increased by fourfold since the strike began. The royal government has appared to show little concern about the resulting impacts on business and daily life.
In a statement following days of negotiations and meetings, the king infuriated demonstrators and demonstrations increased significantly across the country when he said he would reconvene the Nepalese Parliament but continue to rule. With pressure mounting on all sides, the king declared on Friday that "I will hand over executive power and appoint the prime minister of seven parties' choice." However, his offer was completely rejected by all sides in the country.
"This is a conspiracy roadmap to isolate mainstream political parties and the Maoists and a policy of divide and rule," leaders of the mainstream parties said in a statement. "The king says 'democracy' but his words do not match deeds." Student leaers were also unmollified.
"We want to continue our movement until we establish 'Loktantra,' democracy without the king," said prominent student leader Gagan Thapa, who has visited the United States at the invitation of the State Dept..
The major political parties want the reinstatement of the House and the formation of an all-party interim government including Maoists, and then elections to be held for the constituent national assembly. Though the Maoists do not favour the reinstatement of the House, they have agreed on the formation of an all-party interim government and elections to the Constituent assembly.
As things now stand, if the constituent assembly election is held the king is certain to lose, observers say, as his popularity is vastly diminished. However, that may be the best alternative for the permanent resolution of Nepal's problems as it would be a democratic solution and the Maoists, struggling to establish republican system, would also come into the mainstream of politics.
King Gyanendra wants the election conducted under his chairmanship, meaning the elections would be conducted as the army, police force and the royal administration - all loyal to him at present - look on. The political parties have not accepted this stance saying simply, "The king's government is unconstitutional."
Elections without the participation of major political forces and the Maoists is an almost unimaginable possibility in Nepal, as each sector forms a major force of public faith. And election are also probably not possible without resolving the problem of the Maoists, whose countryside insurgency has claimed over 13,000 lives in anti-government fighting since 1996. The king has declared the Maoists a terrorist organization and banned them.
Maoists declared a cease-fire in September 2005 that lasted for four months, but the royal government did not reciprocate despite calls to do so from all spectrums of Nepalese society and the international community, including the United States and India.
The United States said last week that the King's rule has totally failed, and the U.S. State Dept. has been urging the king to restore democracy and work with political parties. For the most part, the king has turned a deaf ear to such suggestions. The same is true of neighbouring India, which often can influence the politics of Nepal through to its close social, cultural, economic and political ties. The two countries share 1,800 kilometers of open borders.
If the king's government is defeated, the Maoists could take over the reign of the Himalayan nation, and that is the major concern of the international community, including the United States. However, the seven parties have agreed with the rebels to step onto the trail of democracy through the formation of an all-party government and holding elections.
For the most part, after a long period in which they defended the monarchy, the United States and much of the international community has strongly condemned the brutality uded by the Rpyal Nepalese Army to suppress the peaceful demonstrations. Amnesty International and other human rights organisations have said there have been serious human rights violations by the Royal Nepalese army and the police forces in recent days, and say that the Nepalese soldiers should not be sent on UN peacekeeping missions to various parts of the world due to those violations.
Inside Nepal, political parties have told party workers to write down the names of the security personnel involved in violations of human rights and suppression of peaceful protests, while the United States, India, and the United Kingdom have suspended military aid in their own form of protest against what is called the king's coup de'tat.
Responding to the king's plan, the seven parties, the Maoists, civil service workers, professional organisations and the general public said in one voice, saying "This is too little and too late." Daily, it seems, tens of thousands of people are risking their lives as they march towards the city center and the Royal Palace, defying curfews almost and chanting new slogans against the king.
They ask themselves, "How long can the armored vehicles at the palace gates and army helicopters flying overhead save the monarchy?"
AR Correspondent Chiranjibi Paudyal has contributed to our pages since 1999, when he visited the United States under the sponsorship of the U.S, Information Agency, and was the first reporter to warn of King Gyanendra's plan to dissolve Parliament in 2003. He is currently in London and can be reached at email@example.com