Demonstrators Call for Democracy in Nepal

Madeleine Brand speaks with New York Times reporter Somini Sengupta, reporting from Kathmandu on the rejection of the Nepalese king's call for renewed dialogue with his political opposition. The king has promised to hold elections within a year, but many demonstrators say they are not convinced.

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MADELEINE BRAND, HOST:

In Nepal, four people have been killed and hundreds wounded in protests this week against that country's monarchy. Pro-democracy political groups want the king to relinquish some of the power he seized last year. Today, in his traditional Nepali New Year's speech, the king promised to hold democratic elections in a year. But that has not eased the tension. And here to talk more about this is the New York Times' Somini Sengupta. Welcome to the program.

Ms. SOMINI SENGUPTA (Reporter, The New York Times): Thank you.

BRAND: Well, why is it that this promise is not enough for the demonstrators?

Ms. SENGUPTA: The promise does not go beyond what the king has said before. He has essentially said, I'm willing to talk to the political parties, and I'll hold elections at some point. But the demonstrators on the street say this is exactly what he has said before. This is not anything new, and that he has failed to address the rage that has poured out onto the streets for the last four days. And he has failed to address what the demonstrators have been clamoring for, which is a new political system altogether, which is relinquishing power, restoring the parliaments that were sacked years ago and a real dialog to end the Maoist insurrection that has bled the country for ten years.

BRAND: And you write in today's New York Times that most of the demonstrators are young people. These are people who, as you say, came of age--political age--after democracy was installed in Nepal, and so that they know what they're missing.

Ms. SENGUPTA: Yeah, that's right. I mean, democracy tanks in Nepal, really, in April 1990, exactly 15 years ago, but it's been in practice in (unintelligible). So parliament has been suspended. Prime ministers have come and gone. There's been great corruption scandals. And so, Nepalians have tasted, you know, the fruits of democracy and the failure of democracy, and it's the post 1990 generation, which is the majority of Nepal's population--nearly 60 percent of Nepal's population is under 24. And they are impatient. They don't share the reverence of their parents and their grandparents for the very idea of a monarchy. It should also be said that, you know, these are kids who have seen Nepal's economy really plummet in the last ten years of Maoist insurgency. So, there's a degree-there's a real palpable frustration on the parts of Nepal's young. And you really see that on the streets. You really see them out at the forefront of the protests this week.

BRAND: And how concerned are observers--are U.N. observers--that the Nepalese forces may be engaging in human rights' abuses during these protests?

Ms. SENGUPTA: There is a great deal of concern, and the U.N. high commissioner for human rights has really stepped up its expressions of concern. Particularly, they're concerned about police using batons and beating people on the heads when they can easily beat them on other parts of their bodies. They're concerned about rubber bullets that are being used; again, targeting, you know, parts of the body: head, neck, chest. They are extremely concerned, you know, about certain kinds of people that have been rounded up and put in detention. Disabled people, for instance, have been put in detention.

And so, there's been a, kind of, warning issued that police officers who are found to have committed these violations, you know, may not be eligible for U.N. peacekeeping duties, which are extremely lucrative and extremely coveted by Nepal's security forces.

BRAND: New York Times Reporter, Somini Sengupta, speaking to us from Kathmandu, Nepal. Thank you.

Ms. SENGUPTA: Thank you.

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