Pro-Democracy Protest Turns Deadly in Nepal

Police killed at least three people and wounded many more at a pro-democracy protest in Nepal on Thursday. Alex Chadwick speaks with Philip Reeves, reporting from the capital city of Katmandu where a strict curfew is now being enforced, about the political unrest.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From China to its Himalayan neighbor, Nepal, where police today fired on pro-democracy demonstrators. They killed at least three people. Katmandu is under a tight curfew now but the measures may not be enough to protect the King of Nepal. He's battling an alliance of seven parties. They're demanding democracy in the country. NPR's Philip Reeves is in Katmandu. He joins us now. Phil, welcome back to the program and what's the atmosphere like in the city of Katmandu?

PHILIP REEVES reporting:

Well, it really is quite extraordinary, really. I mean the entire city is absolutely come to a, has absolutely come to a standstill. It's very eerie to see a capital city with absolutely no traffic whatsoever in the middle of town. All the shops are closed, and you could almost hear a pin drop. You can certainly for once hear all the, you know, the temple bells ringing which you couldn't normally do on any given day in Katmandu.

But I actually traveled out in a rickshaw to see whether I could break the curfew early this morning and was stopped six times by soldiers, rather hostile soldiers. So this is a curfew that is being extremely rigidly enforced within the city limits.

CHADWICK: I heard your reports earlier today on MORNING EDITION about the backgrounds of this, this demonstration, the demonstrations going on. The King has seized all power and democracy demonstrators are asking him to give up some of that power. So you're saying that you haven't actually been able to witness these demonstrations, but the reports are that a lot of people are there. How many, do you know?

Mr. REEVES: We don't know exactly and estimates differ. But one figure says that one of the crowds had 50,000 peoples in it. And pictures of the scene do suggest that they were very large crowds, the largest perhaps so far, certainly in the Katmandu area, to come out and protest against the King.

There were no passes, curfew passes issued either to journalists or to United Nations and other international observers who wanted to go to these demonstrations and witness them. And although some journalists did manage to get to them, many didn't because the curfew was so rigidly, unexpectedly rigidly enforced. This has been an issue with the international community because they have human rights operators who want to see whether they can monitor these events for human rights abuses and they are extremely displeased that they were unable to do so.

Mr. CHADWICK: In your report this morning, I heard you raise questions about the loyalty of the Royal Nepalese Army. Presumably these are the people who are enforcing the curfew. Does this resolve the question of their loyalty?

Mr. REEVES: Well, in some ways it does because it, you know, they certainly did enforce it and they have always been loyal to the King. It is one of his strongest cards. But on the other hand, the fact that the King felt that he should shut down his own capitol totally is an indication of how insecure his position is. And the other thing I think he has on his side as well as the army is the fact that although these huge crowds are turning out, there is some division within them about what their aspirations are.

The political parties that launched these protests talk in terms of setting up a parliamentary democracy with the King as a constitutional monarch and a new constitution being drawn up. But there are plenty of them, especially young people out there, who now want this country to become a republic and scrap the monarchy altogether. And of course there are Maoists too who have been extremely active in the last decade as they've pursued their insurgency against the King.

Mr. CHADWICK: NPR's Philip Reeves joined us from Katmandu.

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