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Nepal's Former Prime Minister Calls for Restoration of Democracy


Nepal's former prime minister, freed from six weeks of house arrest Friday, is vowing to stage street protests to force the king to restore democracy. Sher Bahadur Deuba is also calling for renewed talks with leaders of the communist insurgency fighting to overthrow the government.

Sher Bahadur Deuba says the only way out of Nepal's political crisis is for the king to talk to everyone involved, all party leaders and the communist rebels. The former prime minister says he is ready to organize demonstrations to pressure the king to act now.

Mr. Deuba is speaking out a day after being released from six weeks of house arrest. King Gyanendra detained Mr. Deuba and his political allies when he dismissed the government on February 1, assumed emergency rule, suspended civil liberties and deployed the military.

The king maintains he is acting to save Nepal's democracy from feuding political parties, which have failed to end a bloody communist rebellion wracking the countryside.

The move has drawn strong international condemnation. But critics inside Nepal have been silenced, either having been arrested, or gone into hiding because of the king's new military-backed censorship.

Shankar Pokhrel, of the Communist Party of Nepal, spoke to reporters from hiding, shortly after the king's seizure of government.

He says political parties are ready to launch a peaceful "people's militant movement" to put Nepal's democratic process back on track. He says it will be very strong and intense, but the parties will not take up arms, because there is already fighting in Nepal.

In the weeks since Mr. Pokhrel made his pledge, there has been little in the way of protests. Mr. Deuba's call Saturday is likely to galvanize support for demonstrations planned for this coming week. But it is not clear if the message will get out under the current censorship.

Nepal's political crisis has been fueled by a nine-year conflict with communist guerrillas, who are fighting to overthrow the monarchy. More than 11,000 people have died in the fighting, many of them civilians.

Still, Mr. Deuba says, the communist rebels can be convinced to return to the negotiating table, if the king were to allow all political parties to participate in the peace talks, which broke down in 2003.

King Gyanendra had handpicked Mr. Deuba to serve as prime minister in June, his third time in the post. Nepal has not had an elected government since Mr. Deuba, with the support of the king, dissolved Parliament in 2002.

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