Copyrighted material


by Marty Logan

on Nepal's revolt against monarchy

(IPS) KATHMANDU -- On one side are hundreds of protesters, most of them college-age men in T-shirts, some waving party flags, some pumping fists in the air. "Down with the king!" they chant. Facing them are rows of armed police in blue camouflage and body padding. Most carry metre-long canes ('lathis') and wear helmets; some tote plexiglas shields, rifles or thicker teargas guns.

Suddenly an order is barked and the police dash forward raising their canes. The protesters scatter. One young man falls and is quickly set on by a policeman who strikes at him wildly -- once, twice, three times he hits the arms upraised for protection -- before other police restrain him, grab the man and drag him to a waiting truck filling with beaten demonstrators.

That battle ends but the fight for political control of this South Asian nation will continue off the streets: in the media, where private and state media air versions of the same events that are as different as night and day; in government offices, where staff are urged to join protests and threatened with dismissal and at health centers, which provide free care for wounded protesters while authorities deport foreign doctors.

On Monday, Supreme Court employees held a sit-down strike inside their premises to show solidarity with the protests that continue countrywide after 12 days of a general strike called by the opposition of seven main political parties (SPA). Only a few private cars and a tiny fraction of the usual mass of motorcycles travelled the streets of the capital Kathmandu, where most shopkeepers kept their shutters closed, fearing punishment from party activists if they opened.

Housewives talked about shortages of sugar and salt at their local stores while rumors of an impending state of emergency were front-page news. On Sunday the government banned protests near the Ring Road encircling Kathmandu -- after earlier outlawing them within the city center -- which has seen gatherings of thousands of people in recent days, but the SPA vowed to hold a massive rally there, Thursday.

Local media reported Monday that six people were wounded in the capital Sunday when police fired rubber bullets at protesters. In southwestern Rupandehi district, nine others were critically injured by rubber bullets as they tried to transform a signboard reading 'His Majesty's Government' into 'Nepal Government.' Ninety others there were injured by bullets, police beatings or overcome by teargas.

Thousands of people have been arrested in this South Asian nation, including 20 journalists jailed for three months Monday for demonstrating in a banned area Sunday, reported local media.

'Protests snowballing in Kathmandu,' read Monday's headline in 'The Kathmandu Post,' owned by Kantipur Publications, an unrelenting critic of the king's takeover. The top story of the state-owned Rising Nepal's Internet edition was King Gyanendra's wishes to President Bashar Al- Assad on Syria's National Day.

While striking images of police brutality fill the newscasts of Kantipur TV, state-owned Nepal TV lingers on shots of police and soldiers guarding street corners and interviews with small groups people critical of the opposition.

"It's the duty of the media to get the people the right information, which is what we feel we have been doing. We believe that both sides should not violate human rights, and we are also showing people throwing stones at the police," says Kailash Sirohiya, managing director of Kantipur Publications.

On Apr. 9, Information Minister Shrish Shumsher Rana told journalists: "Today the press is saying there is no freedom. I think the right to life is more important," reported

Last Thursday, Rana called the country's major cable TV operators to his office and ordered them to stop airing Kantipur TV. Only one complied and that only for a few hours, says Sirohiya in an interview in his Kathmandu office.

Kantipur, which has had TV equipment seized by the government and its radio temporarily taken off the air since the king's coup, faces another threat, says Sirohiya: if an emergency is imposed, the media will be its first victim.

Victims of the past weeks' often violent demonstrations, on the other hand, are getting relief. A fund for injured protesters now totals more than 10 million rupees ($138,000). At Om Hospital, anyone hurt at a protest can get free treatment, says director Harish Joshi.

"Normally they're orthopaedic patients, with fractured limbs, that sort of thing. We do the dressing, suturing etc," he told IPS on Sunday. To date the hospital has treated about 40 wounded, including a few police officers. It has also created its own fund to cover the treatment costs and its staff has pledged to give up a day's salary.

The government last week deported two foreign doctors who were providing first aid at protests because they did not have work visas.

Om's directors do not fear repercussions from the royal government, said Joshi. "We're doing this on humanitarian grounds as well as because it's our right. This is not against any one person, it is for democracy."

For 14 months representatives of many nations have been urging King Gyanendra to restore multiparty democracy immediately. But the monarch has stuck to his plan to hold parliamentary elections and return power within three years -- that steadfastness revealing the weakness of the international community, according to many observers.

Last week, Rana reiterated the government's position that it will not accept outside assistance to solve political problems from the United Nations or any body. "Are we so incapable of solving our nation's problem on our own?" he asked journalists.

"We have a feeling that what we have done has not had enough impact," said Pauli Mustonen, charge d'affaires at the Embassy of Finland, speaking on behalf of the European Union.

"There is an ongoing discussion about what can be done, including smart sanctions, but there are no conclusions yet," he told IPS on Sunday.

According to bodies like Amnesty International and the International Crisis Group, smart sanctions would include such things as refusing travel visas for Nepali government officials and seizing their foreign bank accounts.

"We are looking and seeing that the country is headed towards more trouble," added Mustonen, which means that most EU governments still have not planned new development activities to replace current programs. The EU has provided aid of 158 million U.S. dollars to Nepal since 1977.

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Albion Monitor   April 20, 2006   (

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