Fate of Nepal Rests with King

A sixth person dies in Nepal's two-week long protest campaign against the country's King. The enigmatic Nepalese monarch holds the future of the kingdom in his hands.

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India has dispatched a senior envoy across the border to Katmandu, the Nepalese capital, to meet with country's embattled King. Two weeks of protests against the monarch have plunged Nepal into crisis, and there's increasing international pressure for the king to surrender the absolute power he seized 15 months ago and restore multi-party democracy.

NPR's Philip Reeves reports from Katmandu.

PHILIP REEVES reporting:

(Soundbite of bell ringing)

REEVES: Amid a city of temples and alleyways, the king's palace stands out on the landscape like a fortress. The monarch within is a man under siege. Gyanendra seized absolute power early last year, sacking the prime minister and his government, because he said they failed to tackle a rebellion by Maoist insurgents in which thousands have died.

Since then, thousands of his opponents have been jailed. Pressure to give up direct rule is coming from many quarters, from the country's political parties, Maoist insurgents, human rights groups, the United States, Europe, and his giant neighbor India. Yet his opponents aren't certain how he will respond.

Ashin Kaki(ph), head of an umbrella group of Nepali non-governmental organizations, has met the king several times.

Mr. ASHIN KAKI (Activist, Nepal): He doesn't listen to anybody. From the very beginning, publicly, he told us that I'm not like my brother. I have my one road map and I want to implement this. And many people think that he was planning this for a long time.

REEVES: The brother is King Birendra. Nearly five years ago, Birendra and much of the rest of the royal family was murdered by his own son, the crowned prince, who, in a drunken rage, then killed himself. As next in line, Gyanendra, a businessman with interests in tobacco, tourism and gambling, stepped in and dawned the crown of peacock feathers. Since then Nepalis have been trying to figure out the monarch. Ashin Kaki, again.

Mr. ASHIN KAKI: It is very difficult to predict the king's mentality at the moment because it's not only me, but everybody who met king very recently say that they fail to understand his mindset. But the kind of movement going on there at this moment is qualitatively, and quantitatively different than it used to be in the past.

(Soundbite of protestors chanting)

REEVES: Not so long ago a crowd chanting slogans against the Nepali king would have been unimaginable. Nepal's exotic monarchs were revered and considered by some as incarnations of a Hindu deity. But now Gyanendra's critics, including Kaki speak out with increasing boldness.

Mr. ASHIN KAKI: Every section of Nepalese society are against the king's rule at this moment. Forget about the others human rights (unintelligible), civil society, political party, but also civil servant has started to really demonstrate against the king's rule.

REEVES: The king says he has a roadmap for restoring a constitutional monarchy and wants to hold elections. But Subob Jakaro(ph), a leading human right activist, says the King opponents don't accept this plan.

Mr. SUBOB JAKARO (Human Rights Activist): The essence of that roadmap is to hold election, then to found the Parliament, the regime. But the question is that whether his regime is constitutional or not. If unconstitutional regime holds the election, how can be the byproduct be constitutional?

REEVES: Sher Bahadur Deuba, the prime minister sacked by the king last year, doesn't believe in the roadmap either. He was recently released after nine months in detention. He believes the king has no desire to create a genuine democracy.

Mr. SHER BAHADUR DEUBA (Former Prime Minister, Nepal): I don't think so.

REEVES: And Deuba says he knows what that means.

DEUBA: More struggle. More crisis. More defiance.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News Katmandu.

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