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Failure to Resolve Political Conflict Could Lead to Nepal Government's Downfall, Donors Warn - 2004-05-05

International donors meeting in Nepal are warning that failure to resolve a political conflict and a communist insurgency in the country could spell the government's downfall. The warning comes as Nepal is gripped by growing protests demanding that King Gyanendra restore elected rule.

It has been a daily ritual for more than a month in the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu. Every afternoon, pro-democracy demonstrators pack the city's streets, demanding the establishment of a multiparty government. The rallies have often turned violent.

The wave of political protests has hit the country a year and a half after King Gyanendra fired an elected prime minister, put off new elections, and appointed a royalist administration. He has taken executive power, and accuses the country's political parties of incompetence and being unable to handle a Maoist rebellion in the country.

Angry political parties say they will intensify the street protests until the king hands back power to the people. Bharat Mohan Adhikari, coordinator for the United Marxist-Leninist Communist party, which is one of the five parties leading the month-long showdown, says all sections of society, students, academics, journalists, lawyers and human rights activists, have joined the movement.

"Our protest is getting momentum," said Mr. Adhikari. "Every section of people are coming out?. We have decided to continue this struggle unless and until our rights are restored, sovereignty has been transferred by the king to the people."

King Gyanendra ascended the throne in 2001, after his predecessor, his brother, and most of his family, were killed in a palace massacre. He has a reputation for being tougher and more ambitious than his brother, who gave up the monarchy's complete hold on power in 1990 after huge street protests demanded multiparty democracy. The king also has the support of the army.

Independent political analyst Lok Raj Baral says King Gyanendra's failure to hold elections for a new Parliament has raised questions about his commitment to democracy.

"Monarchy wants to retain its own power on the basis of its own traditional legitimacy but the political forces and the conscious segments of society want to get that power and make people sovereign in the real sense of the term," he said.

Analysts say the movement to restore democracy has wide support among the people. But they say people also distrust Nepal's political parties, which are weak, and must share blame for the present chaos in the country.

Through the past decade, feeble governments changed frequently.

They were widely accused of being corrupt and blamed for allowing a Maoist insurgency to take root in the countryside.

Yuvraj Ghimre, political editor of Nepal's Kantipur newspaper, says expectations that democracy would improve people's lives never came true.

"There are apprehensions about the role of the king, as well as the role of the political parties, because the political parties have also been charged in the past with having made many compromises against the spirit of the constitution for their narrow partisan gain," said Mr. Ghimre.

So far, political parties have rejected the King's appeals to call off their protests, and his offer to hold elections by April next year. But the pro-monarchy administration has made a concession to the protesters by lifting a ban on demonstrations, paving the way for a dialogue between the two sides.

The calls for reconciliation between the king and the political parties are growing, both at home and in the international community.

Aid donors meeting in Nepal said this week that alarm bells have been sounded in the international community that the tiny country may be heading toward becoming a failed state. They said democracy is necessary for Nepal's development.

The warning comes amid concerns that the deepening political crisis will make it more difficult to control a Maoist insurgency that has killed more than 7,000 people since it erupted in 1996. The Maoists want to turn Nepal into a communist republic and abolish the monarchy.

Political analysts say it will not be possible to negotiate an end to the Maoist rebellion until the King and parliamentary parties break their deadlock.