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Nepal's King Defends Takeover at Regional Summit and Promises Elections

  • Patricia Nunan

Nepal's King Gyanendra has used a regional economic summit to defend his decision to seize control of the country's government - a move widely condemned by the international community. The king also warned that an ongoing insurgency by communist rebels amounted to a terrorist threat that could affect the entire region.

King Gyanendra has made few appearances on the international stage since February, when he dismissed parliament, detained opposition leaders and activists, shut down the news media and assumed full control of Nepal's government.

The king said he was forced to act by Nepal's political parties, which failed to stop an insurgency that has wracked the country. Insurgents, who say they follow the teachings of the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong, have waged a nine-year campaign to topple Nepal's monarchy. More than 60,000 people have died in the conflict.

King Gyanendra says the Maoist rebels are terrorists, and on Saturday, he warned that the insurgency threatens regional stability.

"The agents of terrors are bent on overthrowing a constitutional order and replacing it with a rejected ideology of a one-party communist dictatorship," he said. "We would like to emphasize that as terrorism knows no geographical boundary, terrorism in Nepal is certain to affect the whole of South Asia."

The king made his comments at the meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, or SAARC - an annual conference intended to bring about better economic integration.

This year's summit has been delayed twice. The first time was because of the Indian Ocean tsunami in December, which caused devastation in three of the forum's seven member countries.

In February, the summit was postponed again after India said the host, Bangladesh, had failed to provide adequate security. Some analysts, however, said Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did not want to legitimize King Gyanendra's actions by sharing a forum with him.

The United States, Britain and others have also condemned the takeover as undemocratic. The king disputes that, and claims that prior to the takeover, Nepal was en route to becoming a failed state.

"The February 1st step in Nepal was necessitated by ground realities, mainly the failure of successive governments to contain ever-emboldening terrorists and maintaining law and order. It has not come at the cost of democracy, as some tend to project it," he said.

In what may be a concession to international pressure, he noted that local elections are due to take place next February, in advance of a parliamentary ballot in 2007.

Terrorism and regional instability are on the agenda at the SAARC summit. India is especially concerned, because of the threat that Islamic extremists may use neighboring Pakistan and Bangladesh to launch terrorist attacks on Indian soil. A worsening of the crisis in Nepal could also lead to tens of thousands of refugees crossing into India.