02/08/2005, 00.00
NEPAL

Kings offers talks to rebels as he cracks down on them

The poor side with King Gyanendra in his fight against corrupt parties, but democracy in the Himalayan nation takes the backseat.

Kathamandu (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Mixed signals from King Gyanendra after he took over the reins of power last week and imposed a state of emergency in the Himalayan nation.

Phone lines and internet connections have been re-established after eight days, but voicing criticism of the King's actions is still banned.

The Nepali Royal Air force carried our raids against Maoist rebel targets in the west of the country, but the new government offered to hold unconditional talks with the rebels.

Tensions are still running high though a week after Prime Minister Deuba Sher Bahadur Deuba and his government were removed from office. Their successors announced on state-run media yesterday that public comments "made directly or indirectly" about the security forces "that are likely to have a negative impact on their morale" were banned, and violators could be arrested. Furthermore, political activities by public servants are outlawed with the authorities reserving the right to seize private property when necessary.

Journalists who criticised the royal coup and the suspension of civil liberties and the imposition of a state of emergency have been arrested. Tara Nath Dahal, president of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ), was detained whilst seeking asylum at the United Nations Mission in the Nepali capital. Bishnu Nisthuri, the FNJ Secretary General, was taken from his home last Friday and is now in the custody of security forces.

Among the population, the King's actions have however found support and justification as a way to deal with the Maoist insurgency.

"What the king has done is great. Only he can sort out this mess. We hate these politicians because all they want is power and money. I'm glad he's taken these powers," shopkeeper Yadav Adhikary said.

King Gyanendra had been critical of how the politicians had failed to solve the conflict that has killed 11,000 since 1996 and impoverished the nation.

But not all Nepalis approve the King's illiberal measures. "In my whole life, this is the worst situation in which my country has found itself", said Surresh Devota, a Kathmandu construction worker.

"He's heading the same way as the shah of Iran, towards disaster," said Krishna Hachhethho, a professor at the Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies.

Political analysts believe that the King's actions have support among the lower classes of Nepali society, outraged at government corruption and tired of the ongoing rebellion.

By contrast, better off and better educated Nepalis reject the move concerned that it is backward step in the process of democratisation that began in the early 1990s. Instead, more time and patience should have been given to this process so that it would have sunk deeper roots and stabilised the country. (LF)

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