Nepal's King Vows Return to Democracy

The King of Nepal has pledged to bring democratic rule to his country after weeks of demonstrations against his regime — some of which ended violently after police used deadly force against protesters. Alex Chadwick discusses the latest developments in Nepal with Phillip Reeves, reporting from Katmandu.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up, what does China get out of President Hu's visit to this country?

First, the lead. Nepal. Where today a king bowed. In a televised address, King Gyanendra offered his people a constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy. This, as more than 100,000 pro-Democracy demonstrators were in the streets of Katmandu.

(Soundbite of protestors)

There have been two weeks of strikes and demonstrations in Nepal. Earlier today, I spoke with NPR's Philip Reeves in Katmandu.

Phil, what did the King propose today?

PHILIP REEVES reporting:

Well, he said that the executive power of Nepal, which in his words he said had been in his quote "safekeeping," shall from today be returned to the people. He asked the alliance of seven political parties which started off this campaign of strikes and protests against his autocratic rule to recommend a prime minister. He said he had an unflinching commitment to constitutional democracy and multiparty democracy. And he appeared to want to retain the constitution of 1990.

Now, that might become an issue here, because that's the same one that was enforced when he, just over a year ago, seized absolute power for himself, arguing that the political parties in power at the time had failed to tackle the Maoist insurgency that had been raging in this country.

CHADWICK: So has there been any reaction? I mean this follows these demonstrations that have been going on, the shootings that occurred yesterday. Have people reacted to this so far?

REEVES: Reaction still coming in. It's far from certain that this is going to be acceptable to the body of people that have become this opposition to the monarch. It started out as a protest by the seven political parties, but it has widened considerably in the recent weeks.

It is reported that the Nepali Congress Party, which is the largest party, is saying that their protest will continue. And on the ground -- I've just returned, actually, from being out in the area where the demonstrations were taking place all day, and talking to people there, they were very ambivalent in their reaction.

There were several who were saying that this was not enough, because they believe that it's time for Nepal to become a republic. That republic, that desire for republicanism in this country has been hardening in the last few weeks. And I think part of that process is because of the, until now, quite hard-line stance taken by King Gyanendra.

CHADWICK: Yesterday you said the police stopped you when you tried to get out on the streets. Is that not the case today? The army and the police are not there?

REEVES: Oh, they're there, all right. They're everywhere in the center of the town, which is where the palace of the king is located. Every few hundred yards you'll come across soldiers. And as you get the periphery of the curfew area, there are areas which -- where large numbers, I mean scores of riot police have collected. And they've, using barbed wired, cordoned off the roads that lead from the outside, where the demonstrations are happening, towards the centre, the fear being of course that the demonstrators will march on the palace.

Today I got out there on the back of a motorbike and we did so simply by sort of waving and smiling at the soldiers, who every now and then have attempted to stop us. But they did seem, they did seem to be more relaxed in that sense than they had been yesterday. And I think that may be because there was this expectation that the King would make this announcement.

CHADWICK: NPR's Philip Reeves in Katmandu. Phil, thank you.

REEVES: You're welcome.

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