February 11, 2005

FOCUS: Nepal

By Jodi Wynn, Newsdesk.org Intern

[Read an update on the Nepal crisis.]

“Down with the royal proclamation!” protestors in Kathmandu shouted before being hauled away by police.

According to Agence France-Presse, the protestors, members of Nepal’s Human Rights and Peace Society, were among the hundreds of activists and politicians detained after King Gyanendra declared a state of emergency on February 1.

Gyanendra said Nepal’s now-deposed Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba had failed to “protect democracy” against an ongoing Maoist insurgency.

Some detainees have since been released, but the most potentially disruptive remain under lock and key.

Deuba had been previously removed from power by the king in October 2002, only to be reappointed in June 2004.

His experience is typical in a nation where democracy and monarchy have historically been at odds.

Nepal’s decades-long power struggle between its king and legislature has continued under Gyanendra.

In the latest crisis, his commitment to democracy seems undermined by his revocation of civil liberties, including freedom of speech and assembly.

Although a complete telecommunications blackout has been eased somewhat, civilian movement has been restricted in some regions, and the Royal Nepalese Army announced it will be adding 7,000 new troops to help “maintain peace and order.”

The measures have inspired a “climate of fear and intimidation” among students, activists and politicians, but haven’t quelled the political violence.

On Wednesday night Maoist rebels attacked multiple government buildings and bombed a jail, freeing approximately 150 prisoners, including many insurgents.

The rebellion dates back to 1996. Roughly 11,000 Nepalese have died in the conflict, most of them civilians.

According to Human Rights Watch, civilians have been forced to harbor rebels, and then suffer government persecution for doing so.

Gyanendra initially gained power in 2001 after his brother, the late King Birendra, and his heirs were gunned down by Birendra’s son, Prince Dipendra, who shot himself immediately after.

Nepalese rioted for weeks thereafter, refusing to believe that Dipendra had shot the royal family.

Gyanendra has promised to clean up corruption, introduce democratic reforms and overcome the insurgency within three years.

According to the Associated Press, these steps, and proposed poverty and farming reforms, could be well-received by the populace.

But tensions in Nepal are still high.

Activists rally for democracy in spite of the King’s crackdown and Maoist rebels continue attacks in their pursuit of a socialist state.

Gyanendra has promised elections and reforms, but Agence France-Presse reported that some activists fear a human rights crisis similar to that which followed the king’s first crackdown on Maoists in 2001.

Keyword search (Nepal): Google News, Yahoo News

“Nepal arrests rights activists”
Agence-France Press, February 10, 2005

“Noose tightens around Nepal’s pro-democracy activists”
Agence France-Press, February 10, 2005

“Over 150 inmates escape”
Nepalnews.com, February 10, 2005

“Nepal frees politicians, arrests protester”
United Press International, February 10, 2005

“Nepal King frees seven leaders”
Reuters, February 10, 2005

“Opposition says hundreds arrested in Nepal”
Associated Press, February 9, 2005

“Nepal’s royal government promises crackdown”
Associated Press, February 5, 2005

“Nepalese King ousts government”
International Relations and Security Network, 2005

“Chronology: Nepal’s chequered political history”
Reuters, February 2, 2005

“Nepal: Government Forces, Maoist Rebels Target Civilians”
Human Rights Watch, October 7, 2004

“Monarchy at a crossroads”
Asia Times Online, January 30, 2004

“Nepal: State of emergency may go too far”
Amnesty International, November 30, 2001

“Nepal king calls state of emergency”
Associated Press, November 27, 2001

“First eyewitness account of Palace incident”
Kathmandu Post, June 8, 2001

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