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Nepalese king talks of progress as rebels kill at least 20 (1 February 2006)

The ballot and the bullet (26 January 2006)

Nepali police detain 50 human rights activists (10 December 2005)

Legal Veneer for Repressing Civil Society (14 November 2005)

Nepalese king talks of progress as rebels kill at least 20 (1 February 2006)

The Nepalese king announced Wednesday that he would allow parliamentary elections within 15 months and claimed success in fighting communist rebels - even as army officials said insurgents killed at least 20 troops overnight.

King Gyanendra's address to the nation, on the first anniversary of his seizure of absolute power, failed to satisfy the main Nepalese political parties, who said it did not appear to signal any softening of his authoritarian rule.
And the king's message that security in the Himalayan kingdom had improved under his direct rule was immediately undermined when army sources said that Maoist rebels made a major assault on a western town, killing at least 17 policemen and three soldiers.
The king seized control over the government on Feb. 1, 2005, drawing heavy protests from the main Nepalese political parties and criticism from foreign governments, which have urged him to speed moves to restore democracy.
"All the positions held by people's representatives will be filled" by mid-April 2007, said the king in his address, carried by state-run media.
The king said at the time of his takeover that the move was necessary to quell a growing rebellion by Maoist rebels and to end corruption.
On Wednesday, Gyanendra said that his royalist government was turning the tide against rebel attacks, which it refers to as "terrorist" activities.
"Terrorist activities have narrowed down to just a few sporadic criminal activities," the king said.
Military sources said that, hours earlier, the rebels had attacked an army camp, police station, jail and government buildings in the western town of Tansen, about 300 kilometers, or 185 miles, west of Katmandu. At least 17 police officers and three soldiers were killed during the raid, said a Royal Nepalese Army spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, citing military policy.
Scores of policemen and other officials were missing.
While assaults by rebels were on hold during their four-month cease-fire through Jan. 2, they have since made more attacks. The rebels had said they had unilaterally halted attacks to give peace talks a chance, but then ended the pledge, accusing the government of failing to reciprocate.
A coalition of seven political parties planned to hold a major protest rally later Wednesday in Katmandu to press the monarch to cut back his powers. But the police prevent the mass protest by arresting hundreds of dissidents before the rally, politicians said.
"The main leaders have already been arrested, " said Rupesh Nepal, a human rights monitor with the Informal Sector Service Center. "They are the ones who can bring more people to the protest."
"The king clearly said he is going to continue his authoritarian rule. It shows there is not going to be any changes immediately," said Mahesh Acharya of the Nepali Congress, the largest political party in the country.
Bamdev Gautam of the Communist Party of Nepal called the speech a "collection of meaningless words and nothing more. He was just self-promoting about good things he claims to have done. We will step up our movement for democracy."
Nepal has not held elections since 1999 and has lacked a working Parliament since it was dissolved in 2002. Plans for elections have been put off in part because of the insurgency, which has made deep inroads into the Nepali countryside since it began about a decade ago.
Krishna Sitaula of the Nepali Congress said he and many other dissidents were in hiding, and that his house had been raided several times in connection with the plans for Wednesday's rally.
"We have reports that more than 600 pro-democracy activists have been arrested by the police, and they are continuing raids," Krishna said.
Similar rallies were also being planned in other major towns in Nepal. Security forces throughout the country were on high alert.
Earlier, the United States renewed its calls for the monarch to discuss a return to democracy with the political parties, saying that authoritarian rule had been unsuccessful.
Palace rule has "only made the security situation more precarious, emboldened the Maoist insurgents and widened the division between the country's political parties," a State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, said Tuesday night in Washington. International Herald Tribune

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The ballot and the bullet (26 January 2006)

A year after his coup, King Gyanendra does it again

IN MANY nasty dictatorships, people take to the streets to demand an election. In Nepal, they want to stop one. Popular demands differ, but dictators tend to react the same way. Before a big demonstration planned for Katmandu on January 20th, a curfew was imposed, armed soldiers patrolled the streets and hundreds of people, including political leaders, were detained without trial. King Gyanendra's security forces used the same tactics, including the cutting of mobile-phone connections, when he seized absolute power for himself on February 1st last year.

This year, the king's government lifted most restrictions after a weekend of street fighting in the capital, and freed some detainees. It offered talks to released politicians. But they were rejected, as an effort to divide and rule, and the government insisted the elections would go ahead. They are to be held on February 8th in 58 municipalities, covering 43 of Nepal's 75 districts. They are a first step in the king's professed plan to restore democracy, to be followed by national elections next year. This is an ambitious aim, since in most districts the government's writ barely extends beyond its headquarters. Most of the countryside is prey to intimidation and violence from Maoist insurgents.

The country's seven biggest political parties�including an avowedly royalist one�are urging a boycott. They argue that the insurgency, which marks its tenth anniversary next month, makes elections impossible. They see the polls, accurately, as an attempt by the king to disguise his autocracy, placate international opinion and marginalise them.

Last November, while the Maoists were observing a unilateral four-month ceasefire, which was not reciprocated by the royal army, the parties entered an alliance with them against the king. Madhav Kumar Nepal, leader of one of the big parties, the Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML), says he did not even try to persuade the Maoists to extend their ceasefire, which they called off on January 2nd. The Maoists' leader, known as Prachanda, said that the targets of renewed military action would be �the royal army and its hired informers that are going to stage a drama of so-called municipal elections�. On January 22nd, an electoral candidate in the town of Janakpur was murdered.

An aide to the king has said that the elections will go ahead �irrespective of how many people die�. If so, they may be a bloody farce. Only 24 kilometres (15 miles) from the capital, for example, preparations in Banepa, a drab highway town of 12,000 voters, are proceeding badly. Officials boast that there are four mayoral candidates, but one of them has decided to withdraw after receiving a letter from the Maoists, and another is on the verge of pulling out under pressure from his family. Shambu Koirala, the chief official in Dhulikhel, the district headquarters, denies there are problems. The last time local polls were held, eight years ago, turnout was over 70%. This time he has been ordered by the government to do even better, though he was not helped by a bomb blast in Dhulikhel on January 24th.

The political parties are doing their best to poison the atmosphere, threatening candidates with ostracism. They called a national strike�a form of protest often enforced by thugs�for January 26th, the day candidates were due to register. Buoyed by some big rallies, the parties and democracy activists are optimistic that a �people's movement� has begun that will topple the monarchy�or shrink it to a modest, symbolic role. The parties' popularity was boosted by the agreement with the Maoists, which, by accepting them into the political mainstream, may hold the promise of peace. But their campaign has not achieved unstoppable momentum.

The Maoists last year suffered a serious leadership split. But their officials' adherence to the ceasefire showed discipline and unity. Now, though, countering the army's propaganda about their alleged weakness, they have stepped up their campaign of violence, bringing it closer to Katmandu. The insurgency has taken more than 80 lives this month. The Maoists have called a week-long strike of their own around polling day.

The UML's Mr Nepal, who was detained last week, says the Maoists know they can neither win nor be defeated by the gun. The same goes for the royal army, though the king may not agree. To some, he seems under greatest pressure from the Maoists and the pro-democracy forces. But others think he may be more responsive to his own main body of support�Nepal's small but powerful group of far-rightists, who complain not that he has suppressed dissent, but that he has not done so thoroughly enough. Following their advice, he has painted himself into a corner, from which extrication will be messy. The Economist

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Nepali police detain 50 human rights activists (10 December 2005)

Nepali police fired water cannon to break up a rally by human rights activists on Saturday and detained at least 50 people as they tried to defy a ban on protests and march into central Kathmandu, witnesses said.

Scores of riot police holding bamboo canes and plastic shields stopped the activists who chanted "Respect human rights" and "We don't accept an autocratic regime".

Protesters were dragged into iron-meshed blue police vans and driven to a detention centre, witnesses said.

The activists were protesting against the seizure of power by King Gyanendra in February which he justified as necessary to crush a deadly Maoist revolt in the impoverished kingdom.

After sacking the multi-party government, the monarch suspended civil liberties, curtailed press freedom and jailed human rights activists.

"This is our challenge to the royal regime," human rights campaigner Krishna Pahadi told Reuters before he was taken away by police. "We don't accept the king's despotic regime."

In recent weeks, tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets across the Himalayan nation demanding civil liberties and restoration of democracy.

Last month, in a move to step up pressure on the monarch, Nepal's seven main political parties and the Maoist guerrillas formed a loose alliance to end the absolute powers of the king and restore democracy in one of the world's 10 poorest countries.

Last week, the rebels, who declared a unilateral truce in September, extended the ceasefire by one month. But the Nepali army has dismissed the extension as a "crooked trick" to regroup.

King Gyanendra is under pressure from the United Nations to declare a matching truce and begin talks with the Maoists, as well as political parties, to resolve the crisis.

More than 12,500 people, many of them civilians, have been killed in the nine-year Maoist revolt. Reuters

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Legal Veneer for Repressing Civil Society (14 November 2005)

The Nepali government has instituted a Code of Conduct to restrict the activities of national and international "social organizations," Human Rights Watch said today. Ostensibly, the Code of Conduct regulates the activities of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Nepal. But in reality, it appears to be aimed at silencing critics of King Gyanendra and his government, which came to power after the king's coup on February 1.

Human Rights Watch called on the Nepali government to immediately repeal the Code, which it adopted on Thursday. The Code prohibits any activity endangering "social harmony" and bars NGO staff from having political affiliations, meaning that only those with no political leanings may work for NGOs. It also attempts to control the places NGOs can work and makes all staff and officials of an NGO legally responsible for the NGO's activities, even if an individual is not involved in that activity. Such provisions violate international legal protections for freedom of expression and freedom of association.

"The Code of Conduct is a dangerous tool in the hands of a government openly hostile to the idea of human rights," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The government hopes to use this legal veneer to muffle the voices of those who have the courage to stand up to it."

Human Rights Watch is particularly concerned that the Code of Conduct will be used to curtail the work of human rights workers and organizations that have been documenting abuses in spite of sustained attacks against them since the February coup.

The Code also establishes a government-appointed Social Welfare Council to oversee the work of NGOs with the clear intention of limiting their freedom of action.

Human Rights Watch also expressed concern that many provisions, such as the term "social harmony," are vague and subject to arbitrary interpretations.

"In a country where journalists, lawyers and opposition party members are arbitrarily detained on a regular basis, this Code is a recipe for abuse," said Adams. "The Code will make it legally dangerous for civil society organizations and individuals to take part in legitimate and peaceful activities."

Since the king's February 1 coup, many human rights defenders have been detained, fled the country, gone into hiding, or stopped working altogether. Those who have continued to work do so at great personal risk and have incurred the wrath of the government.

Human Rights Watch said that the Code of Conduct is the latest in a series of repressive acts since the coup. In October, the king adopted a media ordinance that forbids any criticism of the royal family and prohibits FM radio stations from broadcasting any news, regardless of the content. The media ordinance has greatly restricted the capacity of the media to report freely and led directly to the closure of the country's largest FM radio news network, Kantipur FM.

After adoption of the Code on Conduct, the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Hina Jalani, expressed serious alarm over the future of human rights workers in Nepal. Human Rights Watch

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