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Nepal Rights Groups, Politicians Demand Democracy

  • Patricia Nunan

Nepal's human-rights community says the country is under illegal military rule headed by the king. In a written statement, more than two dozen human-rights groups called on the international community to stop all military support to Nepal and to pressure King Gyanendra's government to release political prisoners, stop the harassment of rights workers and restore communications in the capital.

The statement was addressed to the United Nations, the World Bank, the European Union, and individual world leaders, including President Bush. It was unsigned because of what it calls the "current threat" to human-rights defenders.

On Tuesday, King Gyanendra declared a state of emergency, placing political leaders under arrest, cutting phone links, censoring the media and deploying troops on the streets. He fired the government for failing to organize elections or end the nine-year Maoist insurgency.

The crackdown appears to have been effective, stifling demonstrations of the kind previously organized to protest royal decisions.

Spokesman for the Nepali Congress Party, Arjun Narasingha KC admits the lack of communications and the ongoing military surveillance have prevented opposition groups from taking to the streets.

But Mr. KC insists it is the king who is really isolated.

"I am surprised how the king has taken such a great risk because it is a risk for the monarchy itself," he said. "I do not think, except the security forces and a few extremists there is no other political forces to follow the king's actions right now."

Nepal's government has been virtually paralyzed for months because of a three-way power struggle between the king, the political parties and Maoist insurgents who have waged a nine-year campaign to topple the monarchy.

The Nepali Congress Party wants the king to recall parliament, so that it can organize peace talks with the rebels, and hold new elections. But critics say this is exactly what the political parties failed to do, largely because of infighting.

Mr. KC says this in no way justifies the king's seizure of power.

"Maybe there were lapses and failure but if the political parties had done something wrong, it is the people who decide. It is not the king who should do it," he added.

Leaders of the Maoist rebels have warned King Gyanendra to reverse the takeover or face a nationwide strike next week. This tactic has previously been successful in blockading the capital, disrupting food and fuel supplies and bringing business to a halt.