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Thousands defy curfew in Nepal

By V Mohan Narayan in Kathmandu
April 20, 2006 14:51 IST
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Defying curfew, hundreds of people came out on the streets in Nepal on Thursday to participate in a pro-democracy demonstration, marking the start of the third week of a general strike called by the opposition parties.

In a bid to thwart the opposition from organising the rally, the royal government has imposed an 18-hour curfew from 0200hrs Thursday morning. A heavy security cordon was placed all over the city and markets remained closed.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's special envoy Karan Singh will hold talks with King Gyanendra to convey India's strong concerns over the prevailing situation and underline the importance of initiating dialogue immediately with the political parties to take forward the process of reconciliation. Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, an old Nepal hand, will join Singh in the talks.

Singh, who is related to the monarch, indicated that his task was arduous. "It is a delicate and difficult mission," he said.

Nepali political parties stepped up pressure in what seems to be a showdown with the monarchy. Warning that this time it will be a do-or-die battle, Gopal Man Shrestha, acting president of the Nepali Congress (Democratic), said King Gyanendra has to take a 'complete U-turn' to restore democracy.

"The present Cabinet has to be dissolved forthwith and all political prisoners under detention should be released immediately," he told PTI. "This time it will be a fight to the finish. People are fed up with the present state of affairs."

The Nepali leader said India should stop all economic and military assistance being extended to what he termed as an 'unconstitutional government' to put pressure on the King.

He said the roadmap outlined by the seven parties must be followed in letter and spirit; Parliament should be reinstated with an unconditinoal interim government and the King should be ready for elections. If this was done through dialogue, then the King will have a 'face saver', Shrestha said.  

"People's sentiments are totally against the King and unless he takes timely steps it may result in a situation that could be beyond the control of even the political parties," he added.

The moral support of the Indian government, its people and its political parties for urgent restoration of democracy in Nepal should continue, he said. The Royal Government ordered a curfew on Wednesday, after four protesters were shot dead and many more wounded during violent clashes in eastern Nepal.

Two of the senior leaders of the seven-party alliance have firmly ruled out any compromise with King Gyanendra until the people were empowered with the right to take decisions on all matters.

Madhav Kumar Nepal, CPN-UML general secretary, who was released on Wednesday after three months of detention told reporters that the agitation would be intensified to restore democracy in the kingdom. "The palace and the army will have to be defeated by the people through this andolan (agitation)," he said, adding 'this has happened in other places'.

Nepali Congress general secretary Ram Chandra Poudyal said, "Until and unless people get their rights back to decide on all matters our movement will continue."

Madhav Nepal termed the King's consultation with former prime ministers and some political leaders as a 'ploy' to divert and distract the people's attention and foil their movement. He said no-one would be swayed by such tactics. Nepal has been under house arrest since January 19. A three-month extension of detention was made on February 20.

Media reports said that the authorities have released 22 other leaders, including Shashanka Koirala, Sujata Koirala, Hrideyesh Tripathi, human rights activist Kapil Shreshta and student leader Khimlal Bhattarai. Pashupati Rana, president of Rashtriya Prajatantra Party, said, "I did say when I came out after meeting the Majesty that he is positive towards a way out to a solution that obviously involves Maoists."

Normal life has been badly hit in Kathmandu due to the 18-hour long curfew. The streets in the city largely remained deserted. Distribution of newspapers was affected as curfew passes were not given to the publication houses.

Spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal Kieran Dwyer said, "Since last night we have been making strong efforts to ensure that our human rights team can move freely throughout Kathmandu valley on Thursday. We have been denied curfew passes, thus obstructing our ability to monitor the human rights situation as we have done in previous curfew situations."

Clashes were reported from Bhakthrapur, Kalanki and other places.

Complete coverage: Nepal

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V Mohan Narayan in Kathmandu
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