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Nepalese King's Speech Fails to Impress Opposition


Nepal's opposition parties have rejected a call by King Gyanendra to hold talks, because, they say, he must first restore democratic freedoms. The king made his appeal after seven days of protests against his government across the country.

King Gyanendra called for talks, in a speech Friday, and reiterated his government's commitment to holding elections.

But an alliance of Nepal's seven mainstream political parties has rejected the king's appeal.

Opposition activist Rajan Bhattarai says that, while the political parties are in favor of holding talks to put an end to increasingly violent anti-government protests, the king must first meet their conditions.

"For that reconciliation and dialogue, there should have been certain conditions, a certain environment should be created. Otherwise, you cannot go and simply sit with him," he said.

The opposition parties want the king to restore parliament, release the hundreds of people in detention, and stop security forces from using violence against demonstrators.

King Gyanendra took control of the government in February 2005, sparking Nepal's current political crisis. The king said he acted because the bickering political parties had failed to stop the country's communist insurgency. The rebels, who call themselves Maoists, have waged a violent campaign to topple the monarchy since 1996.

Since dismissing parliament, King Gyanendra has restricted the media and civil liberties, and arrested hundreds of political opponents, activists and students. He has promised parliamentary elections next year, but has given no specific date.

Demonstrators protesting the king's rule have taken to Nepal's streets for the past seven days, at times in defiance of a government-imposed curfew. Security forces have responded by beating protesters, and firing tear-gas and rubber bullets. Four demonstrators have died.

Opposition activist Bhattarai says the demonstrations are likely to continue. But he discounts fears the king will order security forces to respond with increased violence because of the support the demonstrators have in Nepal and abroad.

"I also see the growing number of participation of the masses, as well as the concern within the security forces," he said. " Some of the security forces people are saying, "No more [of] this. Because we cannot go that way." Also, because of the growing pressure internationally and nationally - I don't think that sort of massacre he (the king) will order."

In response to the violence, the U.S. Embassy in Nepal has urged all non-essential staff to leave the country.

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