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Nepal’s ‘mother of protests’ dies

Kathmandu, Aug. 28 (Reuters): The face of Nepal’s popular anti-monarchy protests — a dimunitive, 88-year-old village woman who braved tear gas and water cannons — has died after being hit by a motorcycle, her family said today.

Chhaya Devi Parajuli was an ordinary member of the Nepali Congress, the biggest political party in the Himalayan nation, who came to Kathmandu from her east Nepal village in 2002 when the king first sacked the elected Prime Minister.

Since then, she was at the forefront of almost every demonstration in the Nepali capital against King Gyanendra, who assumed absolute power in 2005 saying he was acting to crush an anti-monarchy Maoist insurgency.

Short and frail Parajuli, who always sported white or yellow sandalwood paste on her forehead, was hit several times by tear gas shells, water cannons and arrested 35 times for coming out against the king on the dusty streets of Kathmandu.

The protests peaked in April this year, and turned often violent, forcing King Gyanendra to step down and hand power back to political parties.

“I am not afraid,” Parajuli said during one protest. “I don’t care about myself, I care about my country. I care about my people.”

Parajuli, a mother of three daughters and two sons, was hit by a motorcycle last month and was undergoing treatment at a hospital in Kathmandu where she died at the weekend, her daughter said.

The veteran activist was keen to meet Maoist leader Prachanda and tell him to work for peace, she added.

The Maoists and the interim government have been observing a ceasefire for more than three months and have held peace talks to try and end the decade-old insurgency which has killed more than 13,000 people.

Today, Nepali political parties cut across party lines to hail the contribution to their cause by Parajuli, whom they affectionately called the “mother of protests”.

“The zeal and strength with which she protested encouraged all of us,” said Amrit Kumar Bohara, a top leader of the Communist Party of Nepal-UML, the second biggest party.

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