Nepal

Nepal vows to guard democracy on anniversary

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By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU, April 24 (Reuters) - Nepalis will not allow their freedom to be hijacked again, the prime minister said on Tuesday as people beat cymbals and danced to celebrate the first anniversary of the end of King Gyanendra's absolute rule.

At least 22 people were killed and thousands wounded during pro-democracy protests last year before the king gave in, restored parliament and handed power back to political parties that led the campaign.

"It is a historic day achieved through the courage, resolve and sacrifice of the people," Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala said at the government-sponsored celebrations joined by thousands of Nepalis and school children.

"This is a day when the people of Nepal made the struggle for the protection of their rights a success," the veteran politician said.

"No one can hijack it again," Koirala said as an army helicopter showered flower petals on the venue in the heart of the hill-ringed capital.

Hours later, thousands of people, some limping on crutches, marched through the city calling for an end to monarchy, which was the war-cry of protesters last year.

"We must unite to turn Nepal into a republic through parliament," Maoist chief Prachanda, who uses only one name, told the gathering at an ancient temple square in the heart of Kathmandu. "That day will be a real democracy day."

PLEA FOR JUSTICE

King Gyanendra sacked the government and assumed absolute power in February 2005 vowing to crush an anti-monarchy insurgency, only to be humbled by mass protests last year.

The new government and the Maoists, who supported the protests, signed a peace deal that ended a civil war which killed more than 13,000 people.

The United Nations urged the government and the Maoists to do justice to those who had suffered violations or abuses at their hands during and after the hostilities.

"No meaningful steps have yet been taken to determine the whereabouts and fate of the 'disappeared'... and the perpetrators of serious human rights violations continue to enjoy total impunity," the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal said in a statement.

As the celebrations began in the city, King Gyanendra, who has been stripped of almost all powers, visited the shrine of a Hindu power goddess outside Kathmandu for annual family prayers, a local private TV channel said.

Analysts say that a year after the end of the king's rule, there is still uncertainty about the date of constituent assembly elections, the cornerstone of the peace deal with the Maoists.

That assembly is meant to draw up a new constitution and decide the future of the monarchy, which the Maoists want abolished.

The government also faces new challenges such as a violent campaign for autonomy in the southern plains that has overshadowed the peace pact.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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