Nepal's King Says Power to Return to People

Nepal's king vows to return political power to the people of this Himalayan kingdom, 14 months after he seized control. The king responded to massive pro-democracy protests with a nationwide address in which he said executive power "shall be returned to the people from this day forward."

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The king of Nepal has bowed to weeks of pro-democracy demonstrations, agreeing to give power back to the political parties there. The king seized absolute power a little over a year ago; several weeks ago an alliance of Nepal's seven major political parties called on protestors to come into the streets, which they did by the tens of thousands.

When he announced that he would appoint a prime minister recommended by the political alliance, people there cheered, according to the wires. We reached NPR's Philip Reeves on the streets of Katmandu to get his reaction.

PHILIP REEVES reporting:

The reaction appears to be ambivalence, at best. The protestors that we've managed to speak with say that--who are largely young men--it's after dark here, and there are hundreds of young men who've gathered in the areas where a lot of these demonstrations have been going on--and they're saying they now want a republic.

Now, that might not represent the majority view; it's very hard to tell in a public demonstration, you know, given the scale of the opposition here. But there is certainly a sentiment among the Nepalis who've been protesting over these weeks that they now wish to have a republic, and, at best, they'll settle for a monarch in a completely ceremonial role.

MONTAGNE: Well, I gather that over the state television and radio--this I'm getting from reading the wires--the king said executive power shall, from this day, be returned to the people. In a sense, that would seem to mean the political parties that have been leading these demonstrations. There's seven political parties there, right?

REEVES: There was an alliance of seven political parties that started this process going with an indefinite strike and other forms of demonstration two weeks ago. But it has broadened, and they, themselves, can see that, to include a much wider spectrum of opinion; and part of that spectrum of opinion is made of those who believe that Nepal should now become a republic.

MONTAGNE: What about the regular people there in Katmandu? Has life, as they know it, been shut down?

REEVES: It's hugely disruptive and, in fact, it's hard to tell what the opinions of many people are because the city is an extraordinary scene at the moment. The core of the city, the center, is totally deserted because it's under curfew for the second day. Apart from patrols of soldiers and policemen every few hundred yards it is absolutely deserted. And then you go out to the periphery of the city, into the Ring Road, and this is the arena in which the protests have been taking place. And now, at night, there is this wandering crowd of people, many of whom are going home after demonstrating, some of whom are just standing around clapping, drinking, dancing, and setting fires; there are an awful lot of fires being set and trees pulled down to blockade the road.

MONTAGNE: Can we please put this in perspective, in terms of the large picture of the world; I mean, what do these disturbances in Nepal mean to its neighbor India, for instance, or the west?

REEVES: They're extremely important from the point-of-view of the Indians, in particular. India is, of course, the immediate neighbor, and it has real concerns about the possibility of chaos erupting in Nepal. And if that chaos comes, their worry in India would be that it spills across the border, where they do have a problem in India already with Maoist insurgents operating in some of the states that border Nepal. So, instability in Nepal is bad news for India on that level, and, of course, on the economic level, too. And so there's concern from the Indians viewpoint, and also from the other neighbors in the region. I think there is also a feeling in the west that this about democracy in their eyes, and therefore they would like to see the wishes of those calling for democracy to be fulfilled because, after all, the mission of the U.S. is to try to establish democracies itself.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Philip Reeves, speaking from the streets of Katmandu. This is NPR News.

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