Nepalese Police Open Fire on Protesters, Killing 3

Nepalese police open fire on thousands of pro-democracy protesters marching toward the capital of Katmandu in defiance of a government-imposed curfew, killing at least three and wounding dozens, witnesses and hospital officials report.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In Nepal's capital, Katmandu, police have fired on thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators who defied a day-long curfew and began marching toward the city's center.

Reports from the scene say at least two people have been killed, dozens more wounded.

It's now been two weeks since an alliance of political parties launched a campaign against the King of Nepal. The King seized absolute power than a year ago.

NPR's Philip Reeves is in Katmandu, and he joins me now.

And Philip, what more can you tell us about the shooting of these demonstrators?

PHILIP REEVES, reporting:

Well it happened at a place called Kalanki, which is on Katmandu's western edge, where a very large crowd had gathered. Now that's one of several big protests against the King which are taking place today, and they're happening around the ring road that forms the boundary of Katmandu.

The police have been trying to keep the crowds from entering the city itself, and have formed a cordon. Because inside the city there's a very tight curfew being enforced by hundreds of somewhat hostile police and soldiers who are authorized to shoot curfew violators.

Now witnesses at the scene of these killings are saying that in their efforts to subdue the protestors, police have been using rubber bullets, live ammunition, tear gas, and baton charges. And the Katmandu hospital to which the two dead people were taken, the doctor there says that they have gunshot wounds.

MONTAGNE: And this is not the first time that the police have opened fire on demonstrators there.

REEVES: No, indeed several people were killed yesterday in southeastern Nepal when the police opened fire on a crowd of protesters there. The reports differ as to the exact numbers, between two and five. And there's a total there of about a dozen who've been killed by the security forces in two weeks.

Human rights groups, both in Nepal and of course internationally, are obviously condemning this very strongly, and I think that's increasing the King's isolation and intensifying the opposition here to him.

MONTAGNE: You know, walk us back through what the issues are here. As I just said, the King seized absolute power more than a year ago, and what? He's been very rigid in his response to these political parties? This is a seven-party alliance.

REEVES: Yes, he has been most rigid, not only in the response to the political parties, but also to very strong pressure that's coming from abroad: from the United States, which has told him to immediately restore democracy, and also, for example, from India, whose envoy is here today seeing the king with the same message, to restore democracy. But there's no sign that he's shifting his position so far.

In fact, the intensity of the curfew in Katmandu, which is the tightest ever during this particular period of instability, suggests that the King is aware that his position is increasingly precarious.

MONTAGNE: And the King, of course, is obviously part of a royal family that goes back? I mean he has great control over what happens there?

REEVES: He does at the moment, because he has assumed direct rule and has autocratic powers. And he also, crucially, has the support of the Royal Nepalese Army, which is traditionally loyal to the monarch. And so far there are no indications that that army is shifting that position.

But, of course, if there is more violence against Nepalese by Nepalese, such as the shootings by police on crowds, that could technically, that could conceivably change. So it's a situation in flux at the moment.

MONTAGNE: Philip, thanks very much.

NPR's Philip Reeves, speaking from Katmandu.

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