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Nepal Turmoil: International Community Urges Nepal King to Restore Democracy


Nepal is a landlocked nation between the world's two most populous countries, India and China. It is the only official Hindu kingdom in the world and has been a monarchy for most of its history. Rivalries within the royal family have contributed to many of Nepal's problems. Maoists in Nepal want to abolish the monarchy and establish a communist system in this poor South Asian nation of 28 million people.

King Gyanendra ascended the throne in June 2001 after the palace massacre in which Crown Prince Dipendra allegedly shot dead the king and queen along with seven other members of the royal family before killing himself.

He assumed direct power in February 2005 after dismissing the government when it failed to quell the insurgency. He imposed a state of emergency and suspended all fundamental freedoms. Since then, the Maoist rebellion has not only intensified, but the King's move has also alienated the political parties he dismissed. Now the Maoists and the political parties have joined forces against him.

Last month, the seven-party opposition alliance, or SPA, and the Maoists signed a public memorandum of understanding in an effort to end the King's rule and restore democracy. Under the agreement the Maoists would eventually join the political mainstream.

Chitra Krishana Tiwari, a former professor of political science in Nepal and now a freelance columnist in Washington, says Nepal has reached a classical political and military stalemate:

“The Maoist insurgency is going on all over the country. The political situation appeared to be more confrontational. The King is not showing any sign of reconciliation with political parties despite the fact that the international community is urging him to do that.”

Dana Robert Dillon, senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, agrees: “Right now, unfortunately, it would be very difficult to point out someone whom you can say is doing the right thing. Political parties are elitists. The King is not interested in working with them. The Maoists are not interested in working with the King or the political parties. Nonetheless, finally, some kind of compromise that brings all political parties into the government, I think, is the ideal solution.”

The King insists he remains committed to multi-party democracy and says parliamentary elections will be held by April 2007. But the Maoists insist on the complete abolition of the monarchy in Nepal. Their four-day blockade in March - aimed at forcing King Gyanendra to give up the direct powers he seized last year - brought the country to a stand still. Early in April, Maoist rebels declared a partial ceasefire.

Yuvraj Ghimire, editor of the Samay magazine in Kathmandu, says people have welcomed the rebel ceasefire offer. And the movement by political parties to restore multi-party democracy has wide public support: "The general public, although they were very critical of the political parties, is equally unhappy with the total failure of the royal regime, especially on the issue of corruption, the bad economic scenario in the country. There is a growing sense of frustration."

Mr. Ghimire says many Nepalis might tolerate the suspension of some freedoms if the King could offer a realistic prospect of peace. There is, however, little sign that he can. Culturally and historically Nepal’s closest neighbor, India has welcomed the halting of military action in the Kathmandu Valley and says it hopes the ceasefire will be permanent. It has also urged constitutional forces to work together to find a lasting solution to the conflict.

The United States considers King Gyanendra’s effort to rule the country by decree a total failure. The State Department has called on him to restore democracy and open a dialogue with the political opposition. Meanwhile, military hardware going to Nepal from the United States, India and Britain is on hold. New Delhi, Washington and London have adopted a common policy toward Nepal, and some people have suggested international talks.

Dana Robert Dillon, senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, supports the idea of an international conference: “I think that will be a good idea to have some sort of multiparty talks on Nepal," says Mr. Dillon. " The problem is that we are not sure that both India and China share the same goals in Nepal, particularly China, which seems to be supporting the King, and only the King. Indians support the political parties, and no one seems to be supporting the Maoists.”

Mr. Dillon says the important thing is that countries such as United States, India and China should have some sort of commitment on their part to stability in Nepal and “should not push their own national agenda.”

TEXT: Several countries, including the United States, India and Japan, have condemned the crackdown on pro-democracy protests and have called on the Nepalese government to release detained activists.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has appointed Dr. Karan Singh, India’s former ambassador to the United States, as special envoy to Nepal to help find a quick resolution to the ongoing turmoil. He is heir to the throne of India's former princely state of Kashmir and his wife is from Nepal's royal family. Dr. Singh has arrived in Kathmandu to assess and discuss the situation with the king and Nepalese political leaders.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has reiterated his call for an inclusive national dialogue with all the political forces and for King Gyanendra to take courageous steps to end this situation and avoid further stalemate.

Many strategic thinkers believe that, if King Gyanendra is unable to reach some understanding with the political parties soon, it might be the beginning of the end of Nepal's monarchy.