Nepalese Political Parties Explore Links with Maoists

Strikes and protests continue in the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal. The king has fired the government and refuses to talk to the major political parties. There is an emerging alliance between those parties and Maoist insurgents.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The king of Nepal has returned to his capitol after an extended vacation. He arrived in a city where demonstrators have demanded, for eight straight days, that he give up absolute power.

(Soundbite of demonstrators chanting)

INSKEEP: People are chanting, We want democracy. Today, police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesting lawyers. The United States has cancelled a congressional visit to Nepal, and told some embassy workers they can leave the country.

Reporter Doualy Xaykaothao has just returned from Nepal.

DOUALY XAYKAOTHAO reporting:

Nepal's King Gyanendra dismissed his elected government and took full control in February of 2005. He claimed that this was necessary, because the seven major political parties had failed to control an increasingly powerful Maoist insurgency, which has left nearly 13,000 people dead over the last 10 years. This week's violent protest against the king suggests that this people of this landlocked nation are at an impasse.

Pashupati Shumsher Rana is chairman of Nepal's National Democratic Party.

Mr. PASHUPATI SHUMSHER RANA (Chairman, National Democratic Party, Nepal): Nepal lies between China and India. And if you have breakdown in the total situation here, which is what it's heading toward, it will affect these two major countries--major--and the world in general.

XAYKAOTHAO: He says the king's failure to hold talks with the major political parties has forced them towards an alliance with the Maoists. This, he says, is not the solution for Nepal.

Mr. RANA: Fundamentally, the power realities of Nepal require the king and the parties to come together. So, until that happens--and that would mean that the king would have to take the initiative, start a dialogue with the parties. And he would have to give up his present political position, and return to an all-party government.

XAYKAOTHAO: This is not the direction that Nepal is currently heading. Recently, the seven political parties met with senior Maoist leaders, and agreed on a 12-point understanding to restore democracy to this nation. This pact worries the U.S. ambassador in Nepal, James Moriarty.

Ambassador JAMES MORIARTY (U.S. Ambassador, Nepal): The parties have all the right intentions with respect to the agreement. They do view it as a vehicle to try to get the Maoists into the political mainstream. But, unfortunately, the Maoists are saying what they want to do is combine their arms struggle with the unarmed struggles of the political parties, to topple the monarchy. In other words, they're preaching a Leninist strategy of revolution, where they control enough force, so that at the end of the revolution, they can call the shots. And frankly, if the king continues to push the parties in the direction of the Maoists, that strategy does have some chance at succeeding.

XAYKAOTHAO: Rhoderick Chalmers disagrees. He's an analyst with the International Crisis Group in Brussels, which works to prevent and resolve deadly conflicts around the world. Chalmers says the Maoists want to make a soft landing into electoral politics.

Mr. RHODERICK CHALMERS (Deputy Director of the South Asia Project International Crisis Group): In their heart of hearts, this is a movement that is committed to communist ideology. And that if presented on a plate tomorrow, with the idea of running their own totalitarian state, would be quite pleased to do so. But they do seem to have realized, that in the current global and regional context, this is just not going to be possible. And they seem to have become more and more aware that they simply will not be allowed, by their large regional neighbors, to turn Nepal into the type of communist country that has been seen in the 20th century.

XAYKAOTHAO: Chalmers says a unilateral ceasefire declared by the Maoists, which ended in January, showed the communist rebels are disciplined--suggesting that there is a chance to deal with them at the negotiating table.

Mr. CHALMERS: The top leaders, if they were bought into some sort of compromise sentiment, could perhaps, bring with them the bulk of their movement. You could try and deal with this movement as a fairly united and disciplined political movement. And try and convert it, over all, on mass, into a more peaceful mainstream outfit.

XAYKAOTHAO: Time appears to be running out for Nepal's king, who promised to bring peace to Nepal within three years. Instead, the palace has arrested and jailed politicians, pro-democracy activists, journalists, professors, and lawyers. India's former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral is a personal friend of Nepal's king. Speaking in New Delhi, Gujral says the king's actions are jeopardizing the monarchy.

Mr. I.K. GUJRAL (Former Prime Minister, India): The more he delays, the more he risks. People are turning to that point in Nepal, that monarchy is dispensable and should be dispensed with.

XAYKAOTHAO: Government troops are preparing for more intense protests this week.

For NPR News, I'm Doualy Xaykaothao in Washington.

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