Nepal’s political parties vow to resist king’s rule
KATHMANDU: About ten thousand people marched through Nepal’s capital on Sunday, demanding the restoration of democracy in the biggest show of opposition strength since King Gyanendra seized absolute power three months ago.
In two rallies organised by unions to commemorate the May Day labour holiday, demonstrators carried placards calling for an end to the king’s direct rule.
Gyanendra on Saturday lifted a state of emergency that had given police unlimited powers, but retained direct rule. The demonstrators stayed away from restricted areas around the king’s palace and government offices, and police did not interfere with the protests.
In the biggest show of strength since Gyanendra seized power in February, nearly 2,000 people participated in the first rally and another 8,000 in the second march through the streets of Katmandu, watched by people from homes and rooftops. The protesters carried red flags and chanted: “We want democracy, down with autocracy.”
Gyanendra imposed emergency rule on Feb. 1 after firing the government, seizing absolute power and suspending civil liberties in a move condemned at home and abroad. He explained the move by saying the ousted leaders had failed to hold parliamentary elections or quell a communist insurgency.
The monarch on Saturday announced that the state of emergency had been lifted. But he still rules without an elected government or parliament and there has been no word on the release of hundreds of political workers jailed under emergency rule.
Censorship of the media continues and a dozen journalists remain in jail for criticising the monarchy. Cable operators are still banned from airing Indian news channels, which have been critical of the king’s actions.
Gyanendra also extended the term of a royal commission set up under emergency rule to probe corruption during the past 14 years of democratic rule. Several political leaders, including sacked Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, were arrested recently at the direction of the commission. Many fear more politicians could arrested in the future on corruption charges.
“We will continue to protest against the king until full democracy is restored. We have teamed up with other parties and are working on a joint strategy to fight the king’s direct rule,” said Gopalman Shrestha of the Nepali Congress Democratic party. The government said the emergency was lifted because security had improved in Nepal.
“Our security forces have been successful to control the insurgency in just three months and people are feeling secure,” state-run Radio Nepal quoted Information Minister Tanka Dhakal as saying.
But Kashinath Adhikari of the Communist Party of Nepal said that “We are still under restrictions.” The Himalayan country has been in turmoil since Gyanendra, 55, suddenly assumed the crown in 2001 after his brother, King Birendra, was gunned down in a palace massacre apparently committed by Birendra’s son, the crown prince, who also died. Ten members of the royal family were killed.
Although the constitution limits emergency rule to three months - a period expiring Sunday - the king had been widely expected to extend it. The surprise lifting of the state of emergency followed the king’s return on Friday from visits to China, Indonesia and Singapore, where leaders pressed him to restore democracy.
On the sidelines of an African-Asian Summit in Indonesia days ago, Gyanendra met several leaders including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. ap