Copyrighted material


by Marty Logan

on Nepal's revolt against monarchy

(IPS) KATHMANDU -- Nepal's capitol was light-hearted again Tuesday. From the hundreds of thousands who marched, danced and sang on the roads, to the store-keepers idly chatting before open shops, to the pedestrians speaking on mobile phones nimbly side-stepping potholes, relief and normality were in the air hours after the king bowed to 'people power' rather than face a protest headed for the palace gates.

Two days after ardently rejecting the monarch's offer that they name a prime minister in exchange for ending a general strike and massive demonstrations, opposition political parties accepted King Gyanendra's late-night proposal Monday that they return to the parliament whose lower house was dissolved in 2002.

Early Tuesday, leaders of the seven-party alliance (SPA) nominated Nepali Congress leader G.P. Koirala as the new prime minister and prepared for Friday's revival of the chamber. That signalled to the masses, preparing for another day on the streets, that they should transform plans for a "human chain" around the capitol into a 'victory day' march.

Protesters who, a day earlier, had defied a shoot-to-kill curfew to show their opposition to the king's direct rule emerged, Friday, wrapped in the red Nepali flag with their faces painted the same color. Friends held hands, chanted "democracy" and broke into spontaneous Nepali folk dancing as rallies set off from six points on Kathmandu's Ring Road.

"I'm happy because democracy is coming to the country and we are chasing the king away," said one man, who grabbed a reporter's arm to pull him into the crowd.

The smell of burnt rubber was in the air and charred remains of tyres could still be seen on the road where protesters had set up flaming blockades to foil riot police and soldiers who beat back their challenges for 18 days, often brutally.

Fifteen people were killed by security forces during the strike that aroused widespread support throughout the nation. More than 5,000 were hurt and 1,000 were jailed, according to the Nepali Congress.

Early in the strike, the largest crowds appeared in smaller cities like Pokhara in the west and Bharatpur in the south, leading some people to conclude that the apathy of Kathmandu's middle-class would again stymie the SPA's attempts to create a show of force in the capital. But on Friday, Communist party leader Madhav Kumar Nepal could stand at the window of his house near the Ring Road watching a demonstration and proclaim, "there is our human tsunami."

"It's good now," said a young taxi driver in the capital Tuesday. "People were dying, there was no food, no work."

SPA leaders had predicted their biggest protests yet for Tuesday. "The crowd would have gone to the palace," said one man, echoing the feelings of many people here that the king's move was too late, but at least prevented much bloodshed. "The army would have shot but they would have kept going," added the man, who has links to the palace's religious advisers.

The end of the general strike should mean that traffic will be free to ply the highways of this South Asian nation so supplies of much-needed fuel and food will reach the Kathmandu Valley within days. However, the country's powerful Maoist rebels have already rejected the party-king deal and vowed to continue blockading roads, including the single highway to the capital.

In a statement Tuesday, Maoist leaders said SPA leaders would betray them by accepting the reinstatement of parliament. The rebels, who launched their uprising a decade ago to end Nepal's hereditary monarchy and stop discrimination against Dalits (so-called 'untouchables'), women and indigenous people, want the parties to hold out until Gyanendra agrees to a constituent assembly that would draft a new constitution.

But the leaders Tuesday said the parliament would itself organize the body. "The announcement of constituent assembly elections will be the main agenda of the reinstated parliament," Nepali Congress general Sscretary Ram Chandra Paudel told

The leaders also said they would hold an open-air meeting, Thursday, to reveal their agenda to the public, perhaps signalling a change from their previous governing style.

Many people here grew disillusioned with the parties -- and democracy in general -- in the 12 years after 1990's democratic revolution, when corruption and squabbling became hallmarks of Nepali politics and the development of this desperately poor country appeared forgotten. That is why some people were willing to give Gyanendra a chance when he fired his appointed prime minister and assumed direct power in a "palace coup" on Feb. 1, 2005.

But the ruler surrounded himself with discredited personalities from the pre-democracy era who ruled by issuing ordinances that appeared aimed at erasing the civil society that flowered here after 1990, particularly a strong private-sector media. When the monarch also failed to stem the blood-letting from a Maoist revolt that had degenerated into a civil war leaving 14,000 dead, the general public grew impatient.

The security forces' brutal beatings of protesters, their use of rubber bullets, and even live ammunition, seemed to be the final straw that drew hundreds of thousands to the streets in the final days of the general strike. Doctors and other professionals, business associations and housewives marched while civil servants downed pens and ordinary people donated millions of rupees to funds for the injured.

And while party leaders were divided over how to respond to the king, the people on the streets never wavered: keep fighting until he guarantees a constituent assembly, they chanted outside their meetings, a call they will now direct to the politicians themselves.

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Albion Monitor   April 25, 2006   (

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