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Nepal Protesters Take to Streets as Royalist Candidates Win Local Elections


Demonstrators have taken to the streets in Nepal's capital to protest Wednesday's local elections and demand King Gyanendra relinquishes power. The king said the polls would be the first step toward democracy after he took over the government last year. Low voter turnout and a boycott by the major parties have marred the elections.

Police Thursday fired tear gas to disperse protesters who threw rocks and burned tires in a rally calling for King Gyanendra to step down.

The demonstrations come as results from Wednesday's elections show royalist candidates sweepings seats for mayor and municipal councils. It is not a surprise since all the major political parties boycotted the elections as illegitimate.

The king announced the ballot after he took power a year ago from the government and suppressed dissent and civil rights. He promised to quell a 10 year bloody Maoist rebellion and restore democracy over time.

This first election, since the king's takeover, faced multiple problems - a lack of candidates for more than half the 4,100 positions, violence and low voter turnout. Officials estimate no more than 20 percent of voters cast ballots.

Rhoderic Chalmers, with the independent Brussels-based International Crisis Group, says he expects the government to blame the King's political opponents for problems blocking a return to democracy.

"These things can all be blamed on the Maoists, on the mainstream parties - they'll be turned by the government as a further argument against their opposition, saying, 'Look - we're delivering democracy," Chalmers said. "Elections are the basis of democracy. We're trying to give the people their rights. These guys are standing in the way. It's the old corrupt mainstream parties, it's the Maoists, who are not allowing the people to have their rights.'"

At least six people died in election related violence. Most were killed in clashes between security forces and the Maoist rebels who want to end the monarchy. Scores of party members, activists and students were also rounded up days before the poll.

The Maoists have recently joined forces with Nepal's often fractious political parties to oppose the King and call for full national elections.

The United States has called the elections a "hollow attempt" to legitimize the king's government.

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