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2006-04-25

Nepal King Agrees to Reinstate Parliament Amidst Massive Pro-Democracy Protests

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In Nepal, hundreds of thousands of people have filled the streets of Katmandu to celebrate King Gyanendra’s decision to reinstate the country’s parliament. The king’s announcement came after weeks of protests and strikes that have crippled the country. We speak with Ashok Gurung of New School University and we go to Katmandu to speak with Narayan Wagle of Kantipur, the largest daily newspaper in Nepal. [includes rush transcript]

In Nepal, King Gyanendra announced last night he is reinstating parliament following weeks of massive street protests to his absolute rule. The king made the announcement in a television appearance late Monday night.

  • King Gyanendra, speaking April 24, 2006.

The announcement came just hours before a huge protest rally planned for Tuesday with demonstrators preparing to encircle the city center. Instead, impromptu celebrations broke out almost immediately on the streets of Katmandu. People took to the streets of the capital in their thousands shouting "Long live democracy!" and dancing within a few hundred yards of the King’s palace. On Tuesday, hundreds of thousands held a massive victory rally in the capital. Tens of thousands crowded near the palace, demanding King Gyanendra abdicate his throne and leave the country.

Nepal’s parliament has been dissolved since 2002, and Gyanendra assumed absolute power last year, declaring a state of emergency and vowing to crush the escalating Maoist rebellion.

Nepal’s seven-party opposition alliance says it is ending the weeks of protests after the King agreed to its demands to reinstate parliament. The alliance has chosen former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala to head a new government.

But Maoist leader Prachanda said that the alliance had committed "another historic mistake" and encouraged the people to continue their protests until the parties declared elections for an assembly to write a new constitution.

The State Department issued a statement saying that the king "should now hand power over to the parties and assume a ceremonial role in his country’s governance."

Meanwhile, life returned to near normal in Kathmandu after almost three weeks of curfew, protests and closures. Shops were reopened, taxis were back in use and mobile telephone networks were restored. No curfew was imposed for the first time in nearly a week but riot police still patrolled the streets.

Since the general strike began on April 6, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators from all classes of society had turned out to mount daily anti-monarchy protests. The royal government responded with curfews and warned of a shoot-to-kill policy. Police killed fourteen people and injured hundreds more.

For more on the latest we are joined by two guests:

  • Narayan Wagle, editor of Kantipur, the largest circular daily newspaper in Nepal.
  • Ashok Gurung, originally from Nepal, Ashok has returned to the country frequently as an NGO consultant. He is currently the Director of the India China Institute at New School University in New York and specializes in international development management.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: King Gyanendra announced last night he’s reinstating parliament following weeks of massive street protests to his absolute rule. The King made the announcement in a television appearance late Monday night.

KING GYANENDRA:[translated] We, through this proclamation, reinstate the House of Representatives, which was dissolved on 22nd May, 2002, on the advice of the then-prime minister in accordance with the constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal, 1990.

AMY GOODMAN: The announcement came just hours before a huge protest rally planned for Tuesday, with demonstrators preparing to encircle the city center. Instead, impromptu celebrations broke out almost immediately on the streets of Katmandu.

DEMONSTRATOR: We have won! Nepalese [unintelligible] have won! They have got the democracy! And I say, Nepalese [unintelligible], be careful! Nepalese leaders, be careful! [unintelligible]

AMY GOODMAN: People took to the streets of the capital in thousands, shouting "Long live democracy!" and dancing within a few hundred yards of the King’s palace. On Tuesday, hundreds of thousands held a massive victory in the capital. Tens of thousands crowded near the palace demanding King Gyanendra abdicate his throne and leave the country. Nepal’s parliament has been dissolved since 2002, and Gyanendra assumed absolute power last year, declaring a state of emergency and vowing to crush the escalating Maoist rebellion. Nepal’s seven-party opposition alliance says it’s ending the weeks of protests after the King agreed to its demands to reinstate parliament. The alliance has chosen former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala to head a new government. But Maoist leader Prachanda said the alliance had committed, quote, "another historic mistake" and encouraged the people to continue their protests until the parties declared elections for an assembly to write a new constitution. The State Department issued a statement saying that the King, quote, "should now hand power to the parties and assume a ceremonial role in his country’s governance.

Meanwhile, life returned to near normal in Katmandu after almost three weeks of curfew, protests and closures. Shops were reopened, taxis were back in use, mobile telephone networks were restored. No curfew was imposed for the first time in nearly a week, but riot police still patrolled the streets. Since the general strike began on April 6, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators from all classes of society had turned out to mount daily anti-monarchy protests. The royal government responded with curfews and warned of a shoot-to-kill policy. Police killed 14 people, injured hundreds more.

For more on the latest, we’re joined by Ashok Gurung. Originally from Nepal, Ashok has returned to the country frequently as an NGO consultant. Currently Director of India China Institute at New School University here in New York, he specializes in international development. On the telephone with us is a writer for the Kantipur newspaper, the largest circular daily newspaper in Nepal. His name is Narayan Wagle. We welcome you to Democracy Now! Are you with us in Nepal, Narayan?

NARAYAN WAGLE: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us the situation right now in the streets of Katmandu?

NARAYAN WAGLE: There were several hundreds of thousands of people in the streets whole day. They’re celebrating the democracy they got last night, that the King announced the reinstatement of the [unintelligible] House. And after [inaudible] as twenty days, the people are there just buying — they’re going to shops, and they’re driving their vehicles. So this is a totally upbeat mood in Katmandu after three weeks.

AMY GOODMAN: And where is the King right now?

NARAYAN WAGLE: He’s inside the palace, and now the ball is in the political parties’ court. And when we’ll see the House sit on Friday, coming Friday, we’ll have a new government with full executive authorities and King will be a constitutional monarch. So, he will do nothing if — what the political parties are believing in now. They will form all-party government, and the government will announce the election for a constituent assembly to negotiate with the Maoists for lasting peace.

AMY GOODMAN: In addition to the crackdown on the protesters, there was a serious crackdown on journalists. Were you or other journalists wounded, attacked by the royal forces?

NARAYAN WAGLE: Yeah. It was like for the last fifteen months after the King seized power in February 1st of 2005, the journalists, the lawyers, all the professional groups, they suffered much. They couldn’t perform their duty very fully. So, it was the darkest year for Nepali media, too. And we had heard in several — and we managed to [unintelligible] or we managed to push the boundary enough so that we could write so many things we got [inaudible].

AMY GOODMAN: Narayan Wagle, I want to thank you for being with us, again, writer for Kantipur, the largest circulation newspaper in Nepal. In our studio, Ashok Gurung, who heads of the India China Institute at New School University. Your response to the head of the Maoist rebels, Prachanda, saying that this is an historic mistake for people to stop their protests now.

ASHOK GURUNG: Thank you for inviting me again. What Prachanda, the leader of the Maoists, said is a rather serious allegation. And it has some basis of why he said what he said. It has to do with when the seven-party alliance and the Maoists, they joined forces to really protest against the King, one of the key demands was clear articulation that the constituent assembly or reviewing the constitution would be a central demand, which King apparently did not address directly in his address.

So, as a result of that, and also as a result of evidence that the King and the political parties, they have a history of making compromises at the expense of people, one can understand why Maoist leader would say what he said. In other words, next few weeks, at least the next Friday, this coming Friday, is going to be very crucial as to whether the political parties who have assured the rest of the country that they will be able to make the decisions necessary to really have constituent assembly, whether they will do that or not.

AMY GOODMAN: And why is the constituent assembly important in Nepal?

ASHOK GURUNG: Well, constituent assembly is very critical to the current struggle by many. It has to do with the constitution that was adopted in 1990 after the restoration of democracy, now is seen by many as inadequate and has many gaps to really address the multiethnic, multicultural makeup of the country. So that constitution also gives — leaves a lot of room for the King, which he did, to really assume and gain control over the political process, including the control over army, the security forces. So, in other words, the constitution as it stands is very unclear and has problems which needs to be addressed immediately.

AMY GOODMAN: And the role of India, China, and finally the United States?

ASHOK GURUNG: The role of India, China and the United States is crucial going forward. They have played — I must say, especially India has played — a very positive role in the recent weeks, and by saying — India has clearly, by sending two senior leaders from India to send a message to the King that the King must return democracy to people or he must really be within the norms of the constitutional monarchy. But going forward they must continue to exert the pressure, because there is a good chance, as indicated by the Maoist leader, that the current political parties and the King might come up with an arrangement which really goes against what people have been fighting for in the past few weeks.

AMY GOODMAN: And what would happen then to the Maoist rebels?

ASHOK GURUNG: Well, I think that would be, again, very sad, because the Maoists, I hope they do not go back to resuming their violent method, which has caused large number of deaths over last ten-year period, including deaths caused by the response — rather forceful response by security forces. Over 13,000 people have lost their lives. So it would be rather disastrous for the country to embark on an armed conflict, which I think is going to be terrible. What is important here is yesterday, when King made an announcement, he failed to grab the opportunity to really reach out to Maoists by encouraging them, by clearly telling them that they are a political force and they should be — they will be incorporated in the new multi-party system.

AMY GOODMAN: Ashok Gurung, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Originally from Nepal, he has returned to the country frequently, currently the Director of the India China Institute at New School University here in New York.

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