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Nepal Protesters Marking Anniversary of King's Takeover


Anti-government activists are taking to the streets of the Nepalese capital in protest to mark the first anniversary of the king's takeover of the government. King Gyanendra said he was forced to act to save Nepal from becoming a failed state - but the move was widely condemned at home and abroad as undemocratic, and the reasons the king gave for the takeover remain unresolved.

Protesters and democracy activists say they will carry black flags to mark the first anniversary of what they consider a constitutional coup d'etat by King Gyanendra.

Their announced plan is to start with small protests in various spots around the capital, which will converge into one large demonstration later in the day.

Last February 1, King Gyanendra fired parliament and arrested scores of political opponents and activists. He cracked down on the media and restricted phone communications for months.

The king said he was forced to act because Nepal's squabbling political parties had failed to stop a violent communist insurgency by so-called Maoist rebels, whose aim is to overthrow the monarchy.

The king's move earned him widespread condemnation by the international community. But it was extremely effective at stifling dissent at home.

A year later, Nepal's political parties are still trying to mobilize popular support among ordinary Nepalese for a restoration of democratic freedoms.

Rajan Bhattarai of the United Marxist-Leninist Party says the coup was accepted initially, because the people wanted the violence to end.

"When it happened last year, in certain corners, in certain sectors of our society, there was confusion," said Rajan Bhattarai. "[It was] 'Okay, if the King restores peace, then maybe later on we will fight for democracy. Democracy may be the second on the agenda.' That was the kind of scenario in the earlier days."

But many critics of the coup point out that the king has failed to deliver on the promises he made when he assumed control of the government. The Maoist insurgency remains strong, and is now in its 10th year. Civil liberties have yet to be restored.

Those failures by the king, Mr. Bhattarai says, have left him marginalized.

"What happens is, in one year, if you go now and ask these people, he is completely isolated," he said.

It remains unclear whether the authorities will tolerate the planned marches. Earlier this month, the king again arrested scores of activists and confined others to house arrest, to head off a day of planned mass protest rallies.

The government has scheduled municipal elections for February 8 - evidence, officials say, of King Gyanendra's commitment toward democracy. But the rebels have threatened anyone who registers as a candidate. Most parties, including royalist groups, have refused to sign up candidates and are boycotting the polls.

Some candidates are living on military compounds because they have been forced to by the government or because it they say it is too dangerous to campaign.

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