NEPAL OR NOTHING
Our correspondent in Kathmandu writes..
In Nepal the showdown between a fat power-crazed king and a huge pro-democracy movement has shut down the entire country since April 6th. The strike is absolute - no driving vehicles, no work, often no shops at all. Hospitals, commercial airlines and banks are on strike. Food is getting expensive and fuel is scarce, but until the king stands down and returns democracy and human rights to the people, the strike is likely to continue.
The media and the world in general has paid little notice. Nepal is not rich in oil or uranium, and doesn't export much. The only thing at stake here is the freedom and future of its 23 million citizens.
The police and army are loyal to King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev - a man who believes he is an incarnation of Vishnu with a divine right to screw the country. Everybody else thinks he's a fat old nutter who killed off the entire royal family and blamed his son-in-law, who then conveniently died, in order to become king. He decided a year ago to take over complete control as a divine ruler and dump democracy and parliament. Famously he declared that the "days of monarchy being seen but not heard... are over". All human rights have been canceled and thousands have been jailed without trial.
Massive numbers have hit the streets in virtually every town in the country. The andolan (protest) was initially called for April 6th-9th, but in response to police violence it was extended indefinitely. Every part of society has held marches and demos against the king. Lawyers, journalists, doctors, women, old people, families of 'disappeared' people, professors, schoolkids, tourists, government workers, NGO workers, students and families of police have taken part. Police have attacked all of the above, perhaps with the exception of their own families!
Journalists have been battered and imprisoned for 90 days. Throughout the andolan, journalists have been singled out, beaten and arrested. Over 100 are in jail. At the lawyers' demo, police opened fire on the peaceful march, injuring 17. One cop met members of the National Human Rights Commission and shouted, "NHRC is a Maoist organization, it should be scrapped and all the human rights defenders should be searched and shot."
Recently the Home Office, who control the police, had a protest against the government - irony-free cops arrested 25.
Huge street rallies have been held in the capital and in every sizable town. Police and the army have clamped down with curfews, which people deliberately defy to show their contempt for the government and to show who really controls the streets. This has been a main catalyst for violence. The regime had killed 13 demonstrators by April the 20th, a figure which will rapidly go out of date, and injured thousands. Batons, tear gas, rubber and live bullets have all been used indiscriminately. Armed police routinely fire at the faces and heads of demonstrators. Many protesters have been "disappeared" or tortured. Senior police have ordered their underlings to beat protesters so severely that they cannot return to the andolan.
The streetfights have also left many police injured. Nepal is a country littered with stones, which has evened the odds a little - until the police start shooting. Ganesh Bohara, an injured 50-year-old from Sarlahi district, whilst receiving treatment at the Vinayak Hospital for his injuries, said he would "go to pelt stones in the street" after recovering. "I am ready to die for democracy," said Bohara, a street vendor, who was hit on his head with truncheons. "I saw another four persons collapsing as I was rushed to this hospital."