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Sunday, April 23, 2006

So, you say you want a revolution

Injured protester

Protests Mount as Nepal Parties Reject King's Bid

Published: April 23, 2006

KATMANDU, Nepal, April 22 — Neither a curfew and tear gas nor King Gyanendra's offer to give up control of the state stemmed the fury of his subjects on Saturday, as protesters, for the first time in 17 days of demonstrations, broke through police lines to pierce the ancient heart of the city, reaching within a few blocks of Narayanhiti Palace.

An injured protester is helped near the palace in Katmandu on Saturday. The police let people move into the heart of the city before clamping down.

Riot police beat demonstrators near Katmandu's royal palace Saturday. The clampdown began after marchers reached the heart of the old city.

Police officers pushed the pro-democracy protesters back through the warren of narrow, sunless alleys, firing tear gas, whipping with cane batons and infuriating them even more. "Dogs!" they screamed, eyes red from the tear gas, as paramedics rushed in to pick up the injured.

A boy who looked no older than 15 lay bleeding from the head. A young woman stumbled blankly into an ambulance, blood streaming down the side of her face. One alley was strewn with hundreds of sandals left by demonstrators trying to flee the police charge.

For the second day in a row, more than 100,000 protesters flooded the streets as police officers, backed by the Royal Nepalese Army, for the most part stood by and let them pass through what was, even a day before, the heavily fortified Ring Road encircling the city center. Only around the palace did the police say that they were under strict orders to keep protesters at bay.

By midafternoon, the coalition of Nepal's seven largest political parties, which began the demonstrations more than two weeks ago, formally rejected the king's offer, made in a televised address on Friday night, to return control of the government to a prime minister of the parties' choosing. In a statement, the seven-party alliance vowed to carry on with the agitation.

"It has undermined the sentiments of the people," the statement said of the king's proposal.

The king addressed neither of the coalitions' two principal demands: the restoration of the elected Parliament, suspended nearly four years ago, and a referendum to rewrite the Constitution and allow Nepalese citizens to decide on the future of the monarchy once and for all. Nor did the king say a word about the protesters still in detention, including doctors, lawyers and writers, nor the stream of laws that his royal government has imposed since his takeover 14 months ago.

In rejecting the king's offer, the seven-party alliance flouted the advice of two of its most important backers, India and the United States. Party leaders may not have had much choice, for they found themselves literally corralled by the protests in the streets on Saturday morning. As senior politicians huddled inside the home of Girija Prasad Koirala, a former prime minister and head of the Nepali Congress Party, protesters jammed the lanes leading to the house with a message meant to both boost and bully.

"Don't get weak in the knees!" they yelled. "Don't ditch the people!"

"We don't give a damn about anything else," another group of protesters shouted nearby. "We don't want the monarchy."

posted by Steve @ 12:45:00 AM

12:45:00 AM

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