Political Tensions Still Escalating in Nepal
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
The political crisis in Nepal is deepening. The country's main political parties have rejected a plan by King Gyanendra to hand over power. They say it's not enough and as NPR's Philip Reeves reports from Katmandu, many citizens agree.
(Soundbite of crowd)
PHILIP REEVES reporting:
The message from the streets couldn't have been clearer. A huge crowd gathered in Katmandu suburbs, eager to show the world what it thinks of the King's latest move.
There are again thousands on the streets chanting, Let's go, let's go, because they wish to march on the capital. Some of them are waving branches of trees. They're waving their hands in the air. They're chanting. And they seem united in their dissatisfaction with the offer made by the King to ask the seven party political alliance to appoint a prime minister.
Protesters said they want a constituent assembly to draw up a new constitution for Nepal, one that only gives the King a ceremonial role. And, said one protester, Anul Cargo(ph), one that transfers control over Nepal's army away from the palace.
Mr. ANUL CARGO(ph) (Protester): Army should be under (unintelligible) constitution. Under parliament. It should not be under the King. It should be under parliament.
REEVES: For University professor Moham Korrell(ph) the upheaval in Nepal is about a fundamental issue.
Professor MOHAM KORRELL(ph): People think that this is the country of the people, not the King. And the King thinks that this is a country of the King.
REEVES: The crowds stream towards the city center, in the direction of the King's palace, an area protected by truckloads of soldiers. The authorities cut off mobile phones, worried that demonstrators were using them to coordinate their protests.
In several places, the security forces opened fire with rubber bullets and, said reports, live ammunition. Wielding bamboo sticks, police charged the protesters.
(Soundbite of crowd)
REEVES: More than 30 injured people ended up in this hospital, about a third of the total estimated casualties. This doctor was sickened by what he saw.
Unidentified Man (Doctor): It's a critical situation. Who can (unintelligible) without angry?
(Soundbite of rain)
REEVES: In the end, heavy rain and hail swept in from the Himalayan mountains and the protesters dispersed. The signs are, they'll be back.
Philip Reeves, NPR News. Katmandu.
ELLIOTT: The standoff in Nepal comes amid a decade-long insurgency by Maoist rebels.
Mr. JOHN NORRIS (Analyst, International Crisis Group): They appealed to groups that had been discriminated because of their caste, because of their ethnicity, because of their gender and because of the extremely poor way that the government handled its counterinsurgency efforts, it took a small problem and made it into a much larger one.
ELLIOTT: John Norris is an analyst with the International Crisis Group, a nonprofit that watches conflicts around the world.
Mr. NORRIS: What we have now is a triangular conflict. We've got the King and the army on one side dug in and opposing democracy. We have a well-armed Maoist insurgency in the countryside. And we have peaceful mainstream Democratic parties essentially caught in between these two forces and trying to figure out how they can get the country back on track.
ELLIOTT: Norris says Nepal understandably has more strategic importance for India than the United States.
Mr. NORRIS: They share a long open border and there's a lot of traffic back and forth. But in terms of the United States, I think we've learned from hard experience that it is not in our interest to have failed states. And I think if we look around, we look at the experience of Somalia, we look at the experience of Afghanistan, states that have collapsed have almost inevitably led to some form of blowback against the United States.
ELLIOTT: John Norris is with the International Crisis Group.