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Peace rally ends abruptly

[Nepal] Pro-democracy rally in Kathmandu, protesting at the suspension of government by the king.
Pro-democracy rally in Kathmandu, protesting at the suspension of government by the king (Naresh Newar/IRIN)

A much anticipated peace rally scheduled for Thursday in the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, ended in silence when the main organisers of the demonstration were arrested soon after their arrival. This was the first time that a mass demonstration had been organised in the capital since King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah declared a state of emergency on 1 February.

The coalition government led by the Nepali Congress Party (NCP) and the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) was dismissed by the king due to the failure of former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba to hold general elections and hold peace talks with rebel Maoists who began an insurgency in the Hindu kingdom in 1996. The conflict has killed more than 10,000 people in the country of 27 million, where 80 percent of the population rely on agriculture for a livelihood.

"Even when bloodshed, violence and devastation have pushed the country on the brink of destruction, those engaged in politics in the name of the country and people continue to shut their eyes to their welfare," the king said, just prior to dismissing the government.

Eleven human rights activists were arrested by the Armed Police Force (APF) to prevent any mass rally on orders of the state. The peace demonstration planned by one of the leading rights groups, Human Rights and Peace Society (HRPS), was to call on the new government directly appointed by the king to create a peaceful environment in the country and to put an end to the king's arrests of political leaders and rights workers. On Wednesday, one of the leading human rights workers and former president of HRPS, Krishna Pahadi had been taken into police custody.

"We don't believe in violence and human rights workers are just door openers to peace," rights worker and eminent journalist Purosattam Dahal, who is also president of HRPS, told IRIN. "But the state should not interfere in such peaceful efforts as today's demonstration. It should instead support us," he maintained.

The demonstrators were shouting slogans like "Long live democracy. Respect our rights." But all those shouting slogans or talking to foreign journalists were arrested immediately.

According to the government, since a state of emergency had been declared, about 43 people have been detained or kept under house arrest, while rights activists maintain the number of politicians, student leaders, activists and journalists arrested had exceeded 1,000.

"We don't believe in violence and will not associate with anyone who is involved in violence. But human rights workers have the right to come forward and speak for everyone," HRPS president Dhahal said.

On Wednesday, the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) released a press statement expressing its deep concern over the suspension of constitutional guarantees and civil and political liberties by the government. "We consider that steps should be taken to reinstall democratic institutions and to protect Nepalese citizens and their representatives, as well as human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and political leaders," the statement read.

Meanwhile, the government has already released some top political leaders, including former prime ministers Krishna Prasad Bhattarai and Lokendra Bahadur Chand, state run radio reported.

King Gyanendra's assumption of power could lead to peace talks with the Maoists, the home minister said on Friday, urging the insurgents to seize the chance after years of war.

Dan Bahadur Shahi, making a first appeal to the rebels who hold large swathes of countryside, said the new government was ready to discuss anything, including the constituent assembly the rebels are demanding to decide the role of the monarchy.

There has been no response from the guerrillas, who have condemned the king's takeover and urged political parties to work with them to resist the monarch. The rebels called for a nationwide blockade from Sunday, the ninth anniversary of their revolt.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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