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Nepal's King Defends Crackdown, Fights Protest

Reuters
Saturday, February 19, 2005; Page A25

KATMANDU, Nepal, Feb. 18 -- King Gyanendra said Friday that he seized power earlier this month to protect Nepal from Maoist rebels and political instability, as political workers were detained and telephone lines cut in a bid to scuttle protests against the king.

Nepali Congress, one of the country's biggest political parties, had planned to mark National Democracy Day by staging a demonstration against Gyanendra's decision to detain political leaders and suspend civil liberties.

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Protesters emerged from a maze of lanes in the old quarter of Katmandu, the capital, demanding that the king rescind his actions. The protesters came in twos and threes to avoid detection, but at least six were quickly loaded into vans and taken away by riot police.

Residents said phone lines, which were cut when Gyanendra seized power, went dead again early Friday, apparently to stop the organization of the protest.

But Gyanendra, who attended a Democracy Day rally guarded by soldiers, said Nepal had to be pulled out of instability.

The king's actions have drawn mixed reactions in Nepal, where many people say they are fed up with corrupt and incompetent politicians and support the king.

The army and police are believed to be solidly behind him, and analysts say the military planned the power grab.

Democracy Day commemorates the 1951 return of King Tribhuvan, Gyanendra's grandfather, from exile in India to oust the Rana oligarchy that had imprisoned the royal family for a century.

On Feb. 1, Gyanendra fired the prime minister and declared a state of emergency, saying political leaders had failed to tackle the nine-year Maoist insurgency, restore peace and hold elections.

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.


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