Nepalese See Progress, Questions in Protests

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Pro-democracy protestors in Nepal hope to increase pressure on the country's king with a day of protests Thursday. Demonstrators say they will continue their campaign until the king relinquishes his powers. But they do not agree on a new political system to replace his absolute authority.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. In Nepal, for nearly two weeks now, an alliance of political parties supported by Maoist insurgents has held strikes and demonstrations. The protestors want Nepal's king to restore democracy. Larger protests are set to take place on Thursday, but as NPR's Phillip Reeves reports from the capital, Katmandu, the king's opponents have different visions of Nepal's future.

(Soundbite of street noises)

PHILLIP REEVES reporting:

It takes a lot of telephone calls to track down Gagan Tapa(ph) amid the warren of Katmandu. He's dodging the police. Tapa's a student activist. He says they've detained him 14 times in the last three years, so these days, he's constantly on the move, flitting secretly from place to place.

(Soundbite of people speaking foreign language)

REEVES: Today, Tapa was in this house, tucked in an alley amid the backstreets of Nepal's capital, Katmandu.

Mr. GAGAN TAPA (Student Activist, Katmandu, Nepal): I don't stay in a house for more than one night. I'll just keep changing places. I have only appear on the streets when there is more than 1,000 people, so that'll be hard for them to arrest from that crowd.

REEVES: Tapa believes his strong views make him a likely candidate to join hundreds of other student activists detained for daring to stand up against Nepal's King Gynandries. The king of this small mountain nation is unpopular. Many Nepalese want him to give up the autocratic powers to which he helped himself early last year, but they want the monarchy to retain some role. Not Tapa. He wants it to be scrapped, and for Nepal to become a Republic. That view, Tapa says, is overwhelmingly held by students now playing a prominent role in the countrywide protests. But not among the leaders of seven political parties who originally launched the current waves of strikes and demonstrations.

Mr. TAPA: It's a fact that the senior leaders of the middle political party, the key political actors, they still hold the opinion that there should be at a minimum a king with a minimal role. They cannot visualize a Nepal without monarchy, and that is a problem. That is the real problem.

REEVES: Demonstrations in Nepal's towns and cities have been going on for nearly two weeks. In the capital, food prices have rocketed. There's no public transport. Trash has begun to pile up. Some demonstrations have turned violent-nationwide, five people have been fatally shot by the security forces.

(Soundbite of protestors)

REEVES: Today, protestors were out again on the edges of Katmandu, a reminder this is the most serious challenge to Gyanendra since he assumed the throne after the massacre of much of Nepal's royal family.

Gyanendra's opponents say the campaign is gaining momentum, though he still has the support of the army, the king will eventually have to give in. If that were to happen, they agree they want an elected body to draw up a new constitution, but they differ over what it should say.

Azi Rana Joba(ph) of the Nepali Congress Party is among those who doubt whether a republic would work in Nepal.

Ms. AZI RANA JOBA (Nepali Congress Party): I mean, we've had trouble handling a democracy, and I don't know how much trouble we might have in handling a republic state. It's, you know, it's not all hunky-dory to say, okay, let's get rid of the king and let's have a republic set up. I don't think it's going to be that simple.

REEVES: Joba leans towards keeping the king in some sort of role.

Ms. JOBA: Maybe just a ceremonial monarch, you know, somebody who does not have authority to do as he wants, you know, to change laws as he wants. You know, that type of a ceremonial monarchy would, could be acceptable.

REEVES: Tapa disagrees. Sitting in his secret house as a storm sweeps through Katmandu, he warns that staunchly Republican young Nepali's could eventually abandon the leaders of the current protest.

Mr. TAPA: If they intend to reconcile the king, if they intend to have a compromise with the king, I bet that a thousand and thousand demonstrators who are right now following these leaders, they will not even spear their own leaders, and they will move ahead. A new leader will arise, a new leadership will emerge from this new movement.

REEVES: There are other unsettled issues within the ranks of those taking on Nepal's king. What future role, for example, should be played by the Maoist insurgents? Should they be included in the political process after years of violence?

(Soundbite of rain on metal roof)

REEVES: On the outskirts of Katmandu, as the rain storms sweep through, Dr. Sorah Outchow(ph) waits under a shelter for another anti-king demonstration to pass by.

The doctor belongs to a team of medical volunteers waiting in case the police open up with rubber bullets, or, yet again, begin beating protestors with heavy batons.

Such scenes sicken him. He says he just wants to see Nepal's warring parties--the king, the political parties, and the Maoists--start talking again.

Dr. SORAH OUTCHOW (Doctor, Katmandu, Nepal): There should be a new round table. They should have the dialogue, and they should come up with the solutions. So, they should not be happening in future. So I hope that with this we will have a brighter future in the coming days, so I hope so.

REEVES: At the moment in Nepal, that brighter future seems far away.

Phillip Reeves, NPR News, Katmandu.

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