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King in Nepal Names Cabinet; Dozens Are Arrested

By John Lancaster
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, February 3, 2005; Page A19

NEW DELHI, Feb. 2 -- Nepal's King Gyanendra named a new cabinet Wednesday, a day after dismissing the government and declaring absolute power in a surprise move that he said was aimed at restoring democracy and ending a nine-year Maoist rebellion.

Contact with the outside world remained limited and telephone and Internet service, severed on Tuesday, had yet to be fully restored. Dozens of politicians have been arrested and many others have gone into hiding, an opposition politician told the Associated Press. Soldiers and riot police patrolled the capital, Katmandu.


King Gyanendra said he fired the prime minister for failing to call elections and negotiate peace with Maoist rebels. (Reuters TV)

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There were no reports of serious unrest, however, and international flights to Katmandu resumed on a limited basis. Traffic was moving normally in the crowded capital and most shops were open, according to news reports.

State radio said that Gyanendra would head the 10-member cabinet but gave few other details.

In announcing his decision on Tuesday, Gyanendra said he was dissolving the government and firing the prime minister -- for the second time in three years -- because the government had failed in its duty to hold parliamentary elections and curb the Maoist insurgency, in which about 10,000 people have died. He vowed to restore democracy in three years.

Nepal's new home minister, Dan Bahadur Shahi, who was sworn in on Wednesday, said the government would soon begin laying the groundwork for resuming peace talks with the Maoists. "The king has the chief executive authority now, so it will be easier for the rebels to come for peace talks," Shahi said on state radio. "It is what they have been wanting."

Gyanendra's power grab has been widely condemned by Nepal's allies, including the United States, Britain and India, all of which have been providing the government with various forms of aid in its struggle against the rebels. India's Foreign Ministry announced Wednesday that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would not attend a regional summit in Bangladesh, where Gyanendra had been planning to represent Nepal.

In addition to dissolving the government, Gyanendra suspended a number of key civil liberties, including freedom of the press. Such measures "put the Nepalese people at even greater risk of human rights abuses," said a statement issued jointly by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists.

On Wednesday, the home of Madhav Kumar Nepal, head of the Communist Party of Nepal, the largest group in the ousted coalition, was surrounded by plainclothes police and special forces soldiers in blue camouflage uniforms, according to the Reuters news agency.

"I am under house arrest," he shouted from his roof," Reuters reported.


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