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Game of Golf Stirs Up Criticism of U.S. Role in Nepal

The deputy chief of mission at the embassy, Elizabeth Millard, denied that the embassy had been soft on the king. "I do not want to be in a position to apologize for the situation here," she said in an interview Thursday. "We thought that the steps taken on February 1 were unhelpful. They were a step back from democracy."

But Millard said the threat posed by the insurgency was sufficiently grave that the United States could not afford to withdraw all of its support from the monarchy and army, which continues to receive nonlethal military assistance from Washington while the Bush administration considers whether to resume arms shipments. Embassy officials assert that the Maoists are active in 70 of Nepal's 75 administrative districts.

Democracy is a relatively new concept in Nepal, whose ruling family came to power in 1768. The country became a constitutional monarchy in 1990 and legalized political parties after massive protests. In 2001, Gyanendra ascended to the throne after his brother, King Birendra, was murdered along with other family members in bizarre palace massacre carried out by Birendra's son.

The current constitutional crisis dates to 2002, when Deuba, the prime minister, dissolved parliament, called for new elections and then sought their postponement, prompting Gyanendra to fire him and appoint a caretaker government. A year ago, Gyanendra reappointed Deuba, then fired him again on Feb. 1.

Embassy officials have suggested that the parties and the king will have to show "some give and take" to resolve the political crisis, as Moriarty put it in a recent interview with the Katmandu Post. The officials expressed doubts about the parties' demand for a restoration of the dissolved parliament, which the king has dismissed as unconstitutional, and expressed support for the king's plan to hold municipal elections, which the parties have dismissed as window dressing.

Embassy officials also have voiced concern about reported contacts in New Delhi between Nepali politicians and Maoist leaders, saying an alliance against the king could plunge the country further into chaos.

To critics of U.S. policy here, such statements sound as if the embassy is making excuses for a monarch who, in their view, is largely to blame for the political crisis and therefore should yield to the country's democratically elected politicians.

"They would like us to say something that would be acceptable to the king," said Mahat, of the Nepali Congress party. "What we're saying is that whether the king likes it or not, the solution must be democratic and within the constitution."

Millard cited "some progress, in the release of political prisoners," although she acknowledged that some had been rearrested immediately after being freed, which she described as "very, very troubling."

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