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Nepal protests go awry

Kathmandu, April 9: In a scene all too familiar to Nepalís recent history, the streets of Kathmandu were ablaze again today. This time it was students protesting the death by police firing of a protester in the southeastern town of Butwal yesterday.

Ever since the government announced a fuel price hike due to the war in Iraq, demonstrations have been an almost daily feature in various parts of the country. It was one such show of public anger, led by seven studentsí unions, that led the police to fire at students within the college premises. The police said ample warning had been given to the students who had been throwing missiles at them. The students rejected the claim.

Students were out on the streets from morning burning tyres in various parts of the capital. Later in the day, they blocked off part of downtown Kathmandu. Vehicles, particularly government ones, were attacked. In the afternoon, the government announced a judicial probe to investigate the Butwal incident.

The protests come seventy days after the ceasefire announced by the government and Maoist rebels who have waged a violent insurgency for seven years against the state. The studentsí wing of the Maoists were among the demonstrators.

On the political front, no progress has been made in the expected talks between the government and the Maoists. It has been more than two months since the rebels announced their negotiating team and nearly two weeks since the latter surfaced in Kathmandu, but the government has not reciprocated.

Given that King Gyanendra is the real power behind the cabinet appointed by him last October, it was believed that negotiations would begin after his arrival from a visit to India. But four days after his return on 30 March, the king left once again for western Nepal. There is no sign yet of talks taking place although the government mediator who brokered the ceasefire has been giving assurances that they could begin any time.

Meanwhile, the five Maoist negotiators have been holding mass meetings all over Nepal. Yesterday alone, six such meetings were held in which the Maoists reiterated their three demands of a roundtable conference, an interim cabinet and election to a constituent assembly.

Warnings were issued that continued indifference by the government may force them to pick up arms again.

A range of voices from political parties to prominent intellectuals have spoken out against the monarch and his government for prolonging the uncertainty.

Most ominously, the president of the Nepali Congress and former Prime Minister, Girija Prasad Koirala, has said the king will be responsible for whether Nepal becomes a democracy or a republic if the political parties continue to be ignored.

The other major political party, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), launched the United Peopleís Movement Day today to mark the 13th anniversary of the successful 1990 Peopleís Movement that ushered democracy into Nepal in an attempt to pressure the king to restore the paramountcy of the peopleís will.

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