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UN Deplores Excessive Force in Nepal

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights is deploring the use of excessive force against pro-democracy protesters in Nepal. At least four people have died and hundreds have been wounded in clashes with security forces since pro-democracy rallies began last week. Lisa Schlein is at the U.N. human rights commissioner's headquarters in Geneva. She spoke by telephone with the commission's office in Kathmandu.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour issued a statement Thursday expressing alarm at "the most excessive use of force" by police against demonstrators in the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu.

She reminded the government of King Gyanendra, who dismissed the elected government and seized absolute power in February of last year, "of its international obligation to respect the right of peaceful assembly."

A spokesman for the U.N. office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Kathmandu, Kieran Dwyer, described a protest Thursday by a group of lawyers.

"Today, in Kathmandu, there have been further arrests, including over 70 arrests of lawyers, when the National Bar Association conducted a peaceful demonstration with hundreds of lawyers, which was violently disbursed by police, including the firing of rubber bullets and other violence," he said. "And two people are in hospital with head injuries from those rubber bullets. Also, another demonstration saw over 20 teachers arrested."

Thousands of protesters have rallied in recent days in defiance of a government ban on public gatherings in Kathmandu and surrounding areas. The protesters are demanding an end to King Gyanendra's absolute power and the restoration of multi-party democracy.

Dwyer says hundreds of people have been wounded in clashes with security forces, some very seriously. He says there have been a large number of head injuries suffered by demonstrators who were beaten with wooden batons by police. He says many people have been arbitrarily arrested.

Official government figures released Wednesday show more than three-thousand people were arrested last week, but over two-thirds have been released.

Dwyer says more than one-thousand people are still detained in, what he calls, grossly unsatisfactory circumstances and conditions.

"We are visiting prisons, but also now, all kinds of places are being used as improvised detention centers, and the conditions of food, water, sanitation are simply not acceptable," he said. "They are not designed to hold people as prisons, and the longer this goes on, the more difficult those conditions are."

The United Nations has 130 human rights monitors in Nepal. Dwyer says 70 of them have fanned out throughout the country to monitor the demonstrations.

He says the demonstrations and general strike called by the political opposition, along with government-imposed curfews have brought normal life in the country to a standstill. He says businesses are barely open for one or two hours a day, schools and commercial transport are not operating.

Nepal celebrates the New Year Friday. King Gyanendra is expected to give a speech on that occasion. Dwyer says people are hoping the king may offer some way out of the current situation.