"We want them to declare a constituent assembly. Only after that will we leave this place," Kulbahadur Rai, president of the Rai Community Association, told IPS. "With a constituent assembly we will have all the components of Nepali society involved in government. The 1990 constitution didn't do that -- we were cheated," he added.
Rais are one of 59 officially recognized nationalities in Nepal, which the government says collectively account for 37 percent of the population of 25 million people, although community leaders say it may actually approach 50 percent. Almost all these groups have been excluded from political power, which has been monopolized by the so-called upper castes in this officially Hindu kingdom.
Friday's crowd broke into small groups that listened to their own speakers or sang and danced to folk songs. People sat on the pavement, littered with yellow and pink flyers, while flags fluttered overhead and small boys hawked bottled water. A line of about two dozen riot police stood at the main gate to parliament but they looked more like spectators than guards.
Two dozen youth climbed the statue of Prithvi Narayan Shah, known as the founder of today's Nepal. Some of them, holding the banner of the Paramedics Association of Nepal, said they want the leaders to chase away the royal family and create a republic. "I think they will listen. This is a large movement," said Bamdev Bhandari, 27.
Another group tied a much larger banner to parliament's gate. It was directed to the nominated prime minister, G.P. Koirala: 'Warning: Girija P Koirala: Take Oath From Sovereign Nepali People not from Killer Gyanendra.'
Fifteen people died in the nearly three weeks of massive, sometimes violent protests that literally swept from one end of this small country wedged between China and India to the other. Between 220 and 430 protests and rallies were reported Apr. 6-24, at least three-quarters of them outside the Kathmandu Valley, reported the United Nations office here.
The protests started small, particularly in the capital, but picked up momentum to finally become the 'human tsunami' that SPA leaders had been vowing since the king fired and jailed his own prime minister in a bloodless coup Feb. 1, 2005.
One reason offered for the movement's success was the participation of Maoist rebels in protests. During their decade-long fight to end monarchy and injustice in one of South Asia's poorest countries, the Maoists have taken control of as much as 80 percent of Nepal's countryside, resulting in 13,000 deaths.
In November, the rebels, who were designated "terrorists" by a previous government, signed an 'understanding' with the SPA, agreeing to return to the political mainstream if the parties created a constituent assembly.
Maoist leaders reacted angrily Tuesday when SPA officials accepted the king's offer of a revived house, vowing to continue the strike and blockade the nation's highways, but since then they have ended the strike and declared a three-month ceasefire. "Come to talk," Koirala urged rebel leaders in a statement Thursday.
On Friday, the Maoist student union held a public meeting in Kathmandu that attracted thousands of supporters and the curious, something unheard of under the king's government.
The previous day, the SPA attracted tens of thousands of people to the same place to reveal their agenda for the parliamentary session. Topping it was formation of a constituent assembly, followed by annulling "regressive" decisions taken by the royal government, forming a commission to probe acts taken to suppress the people's movement and compensating those injured and the families of people killed in the movement.
Friday's session was delayed because Koirala, 84, was sick and unable to be sworn in as planned. The chain smoker has suffered from respiratory problems the past few years.
By two pm, there was standing room only in the chamber, a combination of east meets west, where massive pillars, arches and chandeliers are juxtaposed with ornately carved Nepali wood. Tripods glittered under television lights and photojournalists jockeyed for positions awaiting the new prime minister.
More than two hours later, the session opened without Koirala. But it registered a written proposal from him: "This meeting of the House of Representatives vows and decides to hold constituent assembly elections to draft a new constitution ...I also express my commitment to hold immediate dialogue with the Maoists, declare a ceasefire and ensure an environment free of fright and fear."
No discussion was held and the house was adjourned till Sunday.
Back on the streets, outside the gate, Ang Daw Sherpa of the Indigenous Women's Peace Network lamented that even at this small rally for democracy, she had been unable to get on the speakers' list. "Even our (indigenous) brothers are not ready for an active role from indigenous womenˆwe are not acknowledged even in our communities," she told IPS.
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April 28, 2006 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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