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Nepal scribes evade censors with blogs

New Delhi, March 23 (Reuters): Journalists in Nepal are going hi-tech to sidestep tight censorship imposed after last month's royal coup.

Outspoken web logs, or blogs, are springing up and being widely quoted and linked to in the 'blogosphere' ' the mushrooming cyberworld rapidly establishing a place for itself as an alternative source of news and information.

'I feel that our very own survival, intellectually and mentally, depends on freedom,' says Dinesh Wagle, a newspaper journalist who runs United We Blog! (www.blog.com.np).

'I don't want to live like a dead soul. So these days I am blogging for a peaceful and democratic Nepal,' he said in an email interview. King Gyanendra seized power on February 1, arresting government and political leaders, rights activists and journalists.

He also banned media criticism of his move, which he said was aimed at ending a nine-year Maoist revolt that has killed 11,000 people and shattered the tourism and aid-dependent economy.

But United We Blog! and another popular blog, the anonymous Radio Free Nepal (freenepal.blogspot.com), publish interviews with arrested political leaders and news about anti-king protests that the mainstream media cannot.

'I am blogging the truth as I see and as I think,' says the print journalist running Radio Free Nepal.

'I am telling my audience there are pro-monarch rallies and the true story behind them (compulsory participation) ... and also that there is not much participation in anti-monarch rallies, along with my feelings that there should be democracy and the king should step down,' he said by email.

Wagle, who coordinates the art and style section for Kantipur, the leading Nepali language daily, is a former information technology reporter. He has his own website (www.wagle.com.np) and along with several friends and colleagues has been blogging since 2003. But United We Blog! turned political after Gyanendra seized power.

In the beginning, the UWB team was quite anxious about blogging political matter. But I was determined to blog politics and everyone was convinced.'

Hits have rocketed: from fewer than 13,000 in January to 65,000 in February and more than 80,000 in the first three weeks of March.

Nepal is one of the world's poorest 10 countries and few people have computers. Fewer still know about blogs. Instead, United We Blog! and Radio Free Nepal are aimed at highlighting the country's plights to the outside world.

The postings have been picked up, linked to and referred to by scores of other blogs around the world, including the Online Journalism Review (www.ojr.org) published by the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication.

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