Nepal

Nepal king says took power to safeguard democracy

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By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal's King Gyanendra said on Friday that he had to assume absolute power to protect democracy from the grave risk posed by a bloody Maoist insurgency and political instability in the Himalayan kingdom.

The king's first comments since his Feb. 1 power grab came as Nepal marked National Democracy Day, the anniversary of the day on which King Tribhuvan, Gyanendra's grandfather, returned from exile in India in 1951 to oust the Rana oligarchy that had imprisoned royal family for a century.

"Terrorist activities coupled with politics far removed from the common man gave a fillip to instability in the nation and put democracy at risk," Gyanendra said in his message read over state radio and television.

"It is clear to our countrymen that we ourselves had to take the steps to extricate the country and multiparty democracy from this morass," the 58-year-old king said.

Gyanendra sacked the prime minister and declared a state of emergency, taking power for the next three years. Civil rights were suspended and strict media censorship imposed.

He justified his decision saying it was necessary because political leaders had failed to tackle the Maoists, restore peace and hold long-delayed elections.

Political parties say hundreds of political activists, trade union representatives, human rights workers and student union leaders have been detained or put under house arrest.

India, Britain and the United States, which have given Nepal military supplies to fight the Maoists, have strongly condemned Gyanendra's move and urged him to restore democracy.

While Amnesty International warned on Thursday that Nepal was on the brink of a human rights catastrophe, Washington said it wanted Gyanendra to make fast progress in producing a plan to restore democracy, failing which it could risk U.S. aid.

"DISILLUSIONMENT WITH DEMOCRACY"

Analysts and diplomats fear Nepal could descend into anarchy and become a haven for international terror groups or drug traffickers.

The Maoists have been fighting since 1996 to topple the constitutional monarchy and establish communist rule. The violence has killed more than 11,000 people and wrecked what already was one of the world's poorest nations.

"Politics in a democracy must be devoted to the welfare of the nation and people," Gyanendra said in his message.

"Everyone is aware that politics bereft of democratic norms and values has caused despair and confusion to spread among the people resulting in growing disillusionment with democracy itself," he said.

Later on Friday, the king is due to make his first major public appearance since taking power at a traditional democracy day parade in the heart of the capital, Kathmandu.

Political parties have planned to stage protests during the event but security forces are unlikely to allow them near the venue of the parade.

State radio said 12 Maoist rebels were killed in fighting between the guerrillas and villagers in Kapilavasthu district in west Nepal on Thursday but gave no other details.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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