Protests Against Nepalese King Fill Streets

Nepal's King Gyanendra places a dayside curfew on the capital in an attempt to thwart protestors. Still, tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters were back on the streets just outside of Katmandu. The king is expected to address the nation Friday night.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

A daytime curfew is in effect in Katmandu, the capital of Nepal, as protests against the country's king enter a third week.

Yesterday, an estimated 100,000 people demonstrated in the largest show yet of discontent. Protestors are demanding that the King restore democracy, after seizing absolute power more than a year ago.

NPR's Philip Reeves joins me now from Katmandu.

And Philip, what's happening there today? Have these protestors returned to the edge of the city where they were congregated yesterday?

PHILIP REEVES reporting:

Yes, they have. In fact, thousands of people have massed in the suburbs around the city's Ring Road, which is in the edge of the area of the capital that's under curfew.

They're waving banners, shouting slogans against the king, burning tires. A large number of security forces with riot equipment is watching on, but so far we've had no reports of a repetition of the violence that we saw yesterday, in which the police opened up with live ammunition and rubber bullets and killed four people.

But it is clearly tense, with the potential for more bloodshed. And meanwhile, inside the Ring Road, the city's Ring Road, in the area under curfew right now, the shops are all shuttered and the streets are totally deserted. Apart, of course, from the soldiers who are patrolling the area with orders to shoot curfew violators on sight.

MONTAGNE: It doesn't sound, again as we talk about this today, that the king is any more willing to climb down from his hard-line position than he was yesterday.

REEVES: Well, there is speculation here that he is going to name a prime minister. A man called Krishna Prasad Bhattarai is being suggested. Now he's been Prime Minister twice before, and was a prominent figure in the Nepali Congress Party, though he's now in his 80s. It's not clear, though, if he would agree to take the job, or if the opposition would accept that.

The king is under this intense international pressure though, and there are constant rumors here that he's about to make a statement, perhaps even later today. But, so far, he hasn't acted, and his tactic has largely been to try to suppress the process by detaining hundreds of people, imposing curfews, and using force, which is what he's been doing for the last two weeks.

MONTAGNE: Now you said that the shops are all shuttered there in Katmandu. How have these weeks of protest affected life, generally?

REEVES: Well, it's had a huge impact, and not just in Katmandu, but nationwide. And it's worth remembering, there are protests reported from other parts of Nepal as well as in Katmandu.

The U.N.'s Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs here says that a social crisis is developing. Hospitals are overstretched, it says, and also understaffed, because some healthcare workers can't get to work because of the curfew. They're worried about how people who depend day to day on their daily wages, they spend them as soon as they earn them, how they're getting by. Food prices have gone up sharply, for example in some places a kilo of tomatoes now costs $1.50, which, in a country where eight out of ten Nepalis live on less than $2.00 a day, is a serious problem.

Also, worries about the sick not getting access to care, about how pregnant women are getting into clinics, and so on, and about medical supplies.

MONTAGNE: Any way to predict at this point how this all will end?

REEVES: Depends on what the king does, whether or not he agrees to return to multi-party democracy. But the worry in the international community is that if he goes on doing nothing, the opposition to him will grow still further and will become increasingly less willing to compromise. And that could be the recipe for further, more serious conflict.

MONTAGNE: Philip, thank you very much. NPR's Philip Reeves, speaking from Katmandu.

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