king talks of progress as rebels kill at least 20 (1
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
Wednesday, Gyanendra said that his royalist government
was turning the tide against rebel attacks, which it
refers to as "terrorist" activities.
activities have narrowed down to just a few sporadic
criminal activities," the king said.
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
of policemen and other officials were missing.
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.
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.
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."
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
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."
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
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
have reports that more than 600 pro-democracy
activists have been arrested by the police, and they
are continuing raids," Krishna said.
rallies were also being planned in other major towns
in Nepal. Security forces throughout the country were
on high alert.
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
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
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ballot and the bullet (26 January 2006)
year after his coup, King Gyanendra does it again
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.
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.
country's seven biggest political partiesï¿½including
an avowedly royalist oneï¿½are 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.
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
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 ï¿½the royal army and its hired informers that are
going to stage a drama of so-called municipal
electionsï¿½. On January 22nd, an electoral candidate
in the town of Janakpur was murdered.
aide to the king has said that the elections will go
ahead ï¿½irrespective of how many people dieï¿½. 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.
political parties are doing their best to poison the
atmosphere, threatening candidates with ostracism.
They called a national strikeï¿½a form of protest
often enforced by thugsï¿½for January 26th, the day
candidates were due to register. Buoyed by some big
rallies, the parties and democracy activists are
optimistic that a ï¿½people's movementï¿½ has begun
that will topple the monarchyï¿½or 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.
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.
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
supportï¿½Nepal'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
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police detain 50 human rights activists (10 December
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.
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".
were dragged into iron-meshed blue police vans and
driven to a detention centre, witnesses said.
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
sacking the multi-party government, the monarch
suspended civil liberties, curtailed press freedom and
jailed human rights activists.
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."
recent weeks, tens of thousands of people have taken
to the streets across the Himalayan nation demanding
civil liberties and restoration of democracy.
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.
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.
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
than 12,500 people, many of them civilians, have been
killed in the nine-year Maoist revolt. Reuters
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