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Protests Continue in Nepal - 2004-05-03


Protests continue to build in Nepal against King Gyanendra's decision to dissolve the government. Over the past few days, there were both peaceful marches and violent clashes as young Nepalis demanded a return to democracy.

These protesters, marching for several miles through the old alleys of Kathmandu, drew in thousands of supporters on Sunday on their way to rally against Nepal's King Gyanendra. Demonstrations like this have been gathering pace since early April and seem to grow larger by the day.

The crisis began in October 2002 when the king ousted the democratically elected government on the grounds that it was corrupt and could not stop the country's Maoist insurgency. King Gyanendra installed Surya Bahadur Tapa as the new prime minister.

Shanank Koirala, a member of Nepal's Congress Party, describes why the king has lost the trust of his subjects. "Well, what has happened over the past year and half, where there is a politics of regression, where the king has taken certain steps that the political parties don't agree to," he says. "They want to restore the Parliament, that is number one, that the existing constitution should be acknowledged and since he has taken this step, this entire gathering is to show solidarity for democracy and to go back to the constitution."

The five mainstream political parties say they will only meet the king if he agrees to talk about an 18-point agenda of reforms. The parties demand that they all be included in an interim government and that elections be held this year.

The king has been slow to react and demonstrators such as Ram Babushah worry that the palace is unconcerned with the situation on the streets.

"By whatever messages that we are getting through the newspapers and the king's emissaries, it seems that he is least bothered by the protests going on here, he has been quoted as saying that these are a handful of people and it does not matter for him," he says.

Such dissatisfaction and a ban on demonstrations in some parts of Kathmandu have led to rising violence. Police vehicles have been torched, hundreds have been arrested and many injured in clashes that involve tear gas and stone throwing. Tourists have been affected as well - last week one American was hospitalized after getting caught in a crossfire of rocks.

Ram Babushah explains the situation. "Yes it is getting pretty violent and there has been widespread accusation by all sectors of society including human rights activists and even the independent media that there has been strong police repression on the demonstration," he says.

Some observers fear that the young Nepali protesters, with slogans such as "The fascist king should leave the palace," "we want democracy" and, more bluntly, "Kill the King," could bring the crisis to a boiling point.

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