05/29/2006, 00.00
NEPAL
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Hindus protest "secular" status of Nepal

by Prakash Dubey

Around 10,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Birgunj in the south of the country. A Hindu democracy activist sees the hand of the monarchists behind the protests.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – Hindu activists have protested against a government decision to declare Nepal a "secular state". Some demonstrated in Kathmandu but the most critical situation was reported in the south. On 25 May, around 10,000 pro-Hindu protesters spilled into the streets of the industrial city of

Birgunj; they waved tridents and saffron flags and shouted slogans against pro-democracy parties. The rallies paralyzed traffic and the city economy.

Hindu leaders and demonstrators claimed the ad interim government decision betrayed the expectations of 80% of the people. Bharat  Keshar Singh, chief of  World Hindu Federation (WHF), said: "The parliamentary decision is illegal and a conspiracy against the country." Swami Dhruva, a Hindu preacher, said secularism could cause "serious problems".

Mohit Bahadur, a Hindu democracy activist said: "Nepalese Hindus are known for their respect for other religions, and it's also true that secularism is already present in our daily life, so there should be no resentment for the parliamentary decision. I think the protests are not a spontaneous response of the Hindus, but that there is the hand of the monarchists behind, who do not accept the new executive power of the prime minister, Koirala."

King Gyanendra was forced to relinquish executive power a month ago, after three weeks of strikes and rallies. According to the new Finance Minister, Ram Sharan Mahat, the king could still be a "symbol of unity" and cover ceremonial roles, but only if he accepted the decisions of the new executive. The king would have to drastically cut back on his spending. The minister said King Gyanendra had squandered many of the country's economic resources for personal reasons in the 14 months he spent in executive power. Many trips he made, especially to Africa, are being questioned, as well as reservations cancelled at the last minute. It was calculated that in the last 10 months of his governing, the king spent 10 million dollars.

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