Mon, May 02, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Nepalese protesters 10,000 strong

`AUTHORITARIAN RULE' In a surprising show of strength, demonstrators hit the streets in Nepal after the king lifted the three-month state of emergency

AP , KATMANDU, NEPAL

Prakash Man Singh, center, a cabinet minister in the sacked Sher Bahadur Deuba government, is arrested by plain-clothed security officials in Katmandu, Nepal, last week. Singh had refused to appear before an anti-graft commission which many critics say has been illegally set up and is being used by the monarch to clamp down on his political rivals.

PHOTO: AP

About ten thousand people marched through Nepal's capital yesterday, demanding the restoration of democracy in the biggest show of opposition strength since King Gyanendra seized absolute power three months ago.

In two rallies organized by unions to commemorate May Day, demonstrators carried placards calling for an end to the king's direct rule. Gyanendra on Saturday lifted a state of emergency that had given police unlimited powers, but retained direct rule. The demonstrators stayed away from restricted areas around the king's palace and government offices, and police did not interfere with the protests.

In the biggest show of strength since Gyanendra seized power in February, nearly 2,000 people participated in the first rally and another 8,000 in the second march through the streets of Katmandu, watched by people from homes and rooftops.

The protesters carried red flags and chanted: ``We want democracy, down with autocracy.''

Nepal's major political parties vowed yesterday to continue widespread protests to resist the king's absolute rule and to demand the return of democracy in the Himalayan nation, despite the monarch lifting a three-month-old state of emergency. He still rules without an elected government or parliament and there has been no word on the release of hundreds of political workers jailed under emergency rule. Censorship on the media continues and a dozen journalists remain in jail for criticizing the monarchy. Cable operators are still banned from airing Indian news channels, which have been critical of the king's actions.

Gyanendra also extended the term of a royal commission set up under emergency rule to probe corruption during the past 14 years of democratic rule. Several political leaders, including sacked Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, were arrested recently at the direction of the commission.

The government said emergency was lifted because security had improved in Nepal. But Kashinath Adhikari of the Communist Party of Nepal said that, "The ban on protests in the main areas of Katmandu is an example that there is still authoritarian rule in Nepal."

The surprise lifting of the state of emergency followed the king's return on Friday from visits to China, Indonesia and Singapore, where leaders pressed him to restore democracy. At an African-Asian Summit in Indonesia days ago, Gyanendra met several leaders including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Annan urged Nepal to "return to constitutional rule as soon as possible."

The meeting with Singh was crucial, because India -- a key arms source for Nepal's fight against the communist insurgency -- suspended military aid after Gyanendra's power grab. Singh agreed to resume it after Gyanendra reportedly assured him that Nepal would restore democracy.

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