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by Marty Logan

All The King's Men Can't Restore Peace 1 Year After Nepal Coup

(IPS) KATHMANDU -- United Nations human rights monitors were kept off the streets of Nepal's capitol April 20, as security forces opened fire on protesters defying a curfew, killing three and injuring over 100.

The monitors were told early Thursday that they would not be allowed to survey protests as they have done during 15 days of a sometimes violent general strike across this South Asian nation. They were permitted on the streets only later in the day, in limited numbers and accompanied by security forces, said Kieran Dwyer, spokesman for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in Nepal.

"We were not given free access and it severely restricted our capacity to monitor," he told IPS late Thursday. "We did not witness the shootings," he added.

Three people were killed when riot police fired on a crowd of tens of thousands of protesters who had gathered at the edge of the curfew zone just outside the Ring Road that encircles the capital.

"Police fired several live rounds, rubber bullets and teargas shells to disperse the agitators and charged with batons injuring several protesters," reported adding, "Human rights monitors on the scene said security personnel also barred Red Cross volunteers from treating the injured persons on the spot."

The government announced the curfew late Wednesday after the alliance of seven political parties (SPA) leading protests against the king's direct rule promized to bring hundreds of thousands of people to the streets. Authorities warned that curfew violators would be shot on sight and refused to grant special passes to media, hospitals or diplomatic missions.

It was the first time in Nepali history that ambulances were not permitted to ply during a curfew, reported Kantipur Television late Thursday.

The strike has sparked mass opposition to the palace government, even among the usually reluctant Kathmandu middle class, after more than a year of what seemed like half-hearted or ill-planned protests. In the past two weeks professionals, civil servants and housewives have joined party activists on the streets chanting for democracy and against the king.

Workers at the central bank even refused to cash a cheque from Home Minister Kamal Thapa this week, leading to the arrest of dozens of employees there, reported 'The Kathmandu Post.'

In recent weeks King Gyanendra has hinted that he is ready to talk with party leaders but they maintain that they will only listen if he first relinquishes the power he seized in a bloodless power coup Feb. 1, 2005.

Thursday afternoon a special envoy from Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met the monarch. "I conveyed to him our concern over the deteriorating situation.he appeared receptive," Karan Singh told journalists after the meeting.

"Now the ball is squarely in the court of the king.I'm hopeful that very shortly some kind of announcement will be made by him."

King Gyanendra has met a series of former prime ministers in the past two days. At least one reportedly refused the offer to reprise his role, according to rumours here.

Many Nepalis were hopeful when the monarch took power 14 months ago after nearly a decade of a Maoist insurgency that was bleeding the country both literally -- more than 10,000 people had died -- and metaphorically -- the unrest had nearly crippled the economy of this tiny nation wedged between India and China.

But King Gyanendra was unable to make peace with the rebels, even after they called a unilateral ceasefire late in 2005. His three-year plan looked suspect again when only 20 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in February's local elections that were boycotted by the SPA.

A large chunk of public opinion here appears to have even overtaken the demands of some parties in the loosely-knit SPA with many Nepalis now calling for an end to the monarchy, which is supposed to be ceremonial only, according to the constitution written after 1990's "people's revolution."

On Thursday as many as 100,000 people gathered for a second protest just outside Kathmandu's Ring Road. There, women, children and men marched buoyantly, smiling and waving to TV cameras. They violated the curfew zone by about 50 m but were then stopped by organizers, who linked arms and formed a line to stop people from confronting an opposing line of riot police.

No injuries were reported there but demonstrators were hurt by police in a handful of smaller protests in Kathmandu, according to local media. Late Thursday the government extended the 18-hour curfew by seven more hours, until 3 am local time.

Dwyer said UN officials are working to ensure that human rights monitor will be on the streets Friday watching the conduct of both security forces and protesters. In recent days the human rights office has had 10-12 teams of up to five people observing the numerous protests that have been breaking out across the capital.

Even larger demonstrations have been held in smaller cities across Nepal during the strike. Country-wide, roughly 3,000 people have been arrested, 1,200 injured and 13 killed in the past two weeks.

Before protests start "we communicate with the leadership of the security forces to tell them very clearly what our expectations are, and then talk face-to-face during the protests if necessary. We communicate these to demonstrators also," said Dwyer.

UN human rights representative in Nepal, Ian Martin, met with the chief of staff of the Royal Nepali Army on Thursday to stress that Nepal must live up to its agreement to give monitors free access while UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour "will be taking this up with the government," added Dwyer.

"It's clear the demonstrations are not going to go away," said Dwyer. "In this context, I would just recall what UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on 13 April when he called on the king himself to take a step -- that still stands."

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Albion Monitor   April 20, 2006   (

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