Sat, Feb 19, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Nepal's government cuts communications

BLACKOUT Service to land-line phones was blocked yesterday, while the king rebutted critics of his seizure of power in a message to the nation

AP , KATMANDU, NEPAL

The royal government plunged Nepal into a communications blackout yesterday -- its traditional Democracy Day -- cutting phone service to thwart opposition activists trying to organize the first nationwide protests against the king's seizure of power this month.

King Gyanendra said in a message to the nation that he seized power only to save the country's democracy from communist rebels and corrupt politicians, while his government's forces boosted security throughout the country.

An official in Washington said overnight that the monarch had assured the US government that he will start restoring democracy within 100 days. The official said Washington would consider suspending its security aid for Nepal if the king fails to follow through on that pledge.

Gyanendra sacked an interim government, suspended civil liberties and imposed emergency rule on Feb. 1, claiming he needed the authority to combat guerrillas who have fought since 1996 to replace the constitutional monarchy with a communist regime. Political leaders, students, human rights activists, journalists and trade unionists have been detained under the emergency.

For days following the royal takeover, Nepal's communications links to the outside world were virtually severed. Land-line phone links later resumed, though mobile phone service has remained disconnected since the emergency declaration.

Land-line phone service was severed again yesterday.

Critics have slammed the king's moves as a setback for democracy, with the US, Britain, India and other nations recalling their ambassadors this week. The king rejected the criticism in a written message to his nation yesterday, saying his takeover was made necessary by the rebels and by corrupt and squabbling politicians.

Gyanendra said that "terrorist activities" -- typically meaning rebel attacks -- and "politics far removed from the common man" had put the country's democracy at risk, adding to "growing disillusionment with democracy itself."

"It is clear to our countrymen that we ourselves had to take steps to extricate the country and multiparty democracy from this morass," he said.

"We are taking out peaceful rallies demanding restoration of democracy in Nepal. We will also urge the people and other parties to join in our protests," said Mahesh Acharya, a central member of the Nepali Congress, the largest opposition party.

The government planned its own events to mark Democracy Day, with Gyanendra scheduled to preside over a military parade.

"We are going to celebrate Democracy Day in a big way. Maybe the Maoists will plan to do something. Security will be tight," army spokesman Brigadier General Dipak Gurung told The Associated Press. "We are very vigilant."

Except for an attack on a jail, the rebels have refrained from major assaults since the king's takeover. More than 10,500 people have been killed in Nepal's insurgency since it started in 1996.

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