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Rights Groups Continue Push for Democracy in Nepal


King Gyanendra had pledged to restore Nepal's democratic institutions by now
The top U.S. diplomat for South Asian affairs is in Nepal on a three-day visit, as human-rights groups mark the 100-day anniversary of the king's seizure of power. King Gyanendra had pledged to restore Nepal's democratic institutions by now.

Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca is the most senior U.S. official to visit Nepal since King Gyanendra took over the government February 1. Few details have emerged about her meetings with government officials and human rights activists, but she is expected to repeat past U.S. calls for the government to restore democratic freedoms as quickly as possible.

King Gyanendra provoked widespread international condemnation when, backed by the military, he dismissed the government, and arrested scores of political rivals, journalists and activists. The king said he had to act because Nepal's political parties had failed to organize elections or to defeat a rebel insurgency plaguing much of the countryside.

In response to the king's moves, Britain and India suspended military aid to Nepal, although on Tuesday, New Delhi agreed to let some aid go through.

The United States did not halt aid, although it has not sent any military assistance since February.

Speaking in the Indian capital, New Delhi, Asian Center for Human Rights Director Suhas Chakma, said it is vital that the international community keep up the informal embargo to push the king to restore democracy.

"We believe that unless the troika of the United States, United Kingdom and India continue to withhold military and other aid, King Gyanendra is unlikely to relent," he said.

Wednesday marks the 100-day anniversary of King Gyanendra's takeover, the deadline Western diplomats say he set for himself to restore democratic institutions in Nepal.

Last month, the king lifted the formal state of emergency and released some high-profile political figures. But rights groups say that with hundreds of people still in detention, those moves may be nothing more than an attempt to placate the international community.

The International Crisis Group is an independent think-tank that has also urged the United States, Britain and India not to resume military aid to Nepal. Rhoderic Chalmers, of ICG's South Asia office, says the king has become image conscious, but has done nothing to restore civil liberties.

"And I suspect we will see a mixed picture there of some continuing hard-line consolidation on the ground, accompanied by a certain degree of high-profile relaxing of rules designed to create a better or more palatable image for the world at large," he said.

Despite the king's takeover, fighting against rebels in the countryside continues unabated. Officials say hundreds of insurgents raided three separate police posts in eastern Nepal on Monday, sparking clashes that left more than two dozen dead.

The Asian Center for Human Rights says that since the king seized power, the bloodshed has worsened. The group says nearly seven people have been killed a day since the takeover - most of them civilians.

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