| Uneasy crown
Kathmandu, Feb. 16 (Reuters): The motorcade of Nepal’s King Gyanendra was stoned as the monarch drove to a pilgrimage site in the capital to celebrate a Hindu festival today but he was not hurt, officials and witnesses said.
The attack was the first of its kind in Nepal where the monarch was traditionally regarded as an incarnation of Vishnu but has become unpopular since King Gyanendra took power only to be forced down by weeks of violent protests last year.
The 59-year-old monarch was on his way to the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu to pray on the occasion of Mahashivratri when crowds hurled stones at his motorcade as it neared the venue, they said.
The stones hit one car accompanying King Gyanendra’s vehicle before the heavily-guarded convoy made it to the temple where the monarch worshipped on the annual “grand night” festival of Lord Shiva.
The crowd also shouted “Gyanendra thief, leave the country” as a power shutdown plunged the area into darkness, Ishwar Dhakal, a witness said.
Police said the crowd was baton-charged before the king was driven back to the palace safely.
King Gyanendra has been isolated since he gave in to mass protests last year, stripped of most of his powers including the control of the powerful army and is rarely seen in public.
Gyanendra was a businessman before he became king in 2001 after his brother, King Birendra and eight other royals were shot dead in a drug-and-drink fuelled shooting spree by the then crown prince who later turned the gun on himself.
Today’s attack came despite authorities deploying thousands of policemen at the pilgrimage site over fears that religious groups could use the festival to demand the country revert to being a Hindu state.
The Himalayan nation was the world’s only Hindu state until it was declared a secular country last year after King Gyanendra stepped down from power.
Organisers of the festival said about 300,000 pilgrims from Nepal and India were expected at the temple of Lord Shiva. Hundreds of sadhus were also expected for the celebrations.
Local media reports said some religious groups were planning protests to demand Nepal — about 80 per cent of whose 26 million people are Hindus — return to being a Hindu state.
“Some people could create trouble. The government is fully prepared to stop anyone who tries to indulge in violence,” Baman Prasad Neupane, a senior home ministry official, said.
About 2,000 policemen would be on guard and more forces were on standby for deployment in the event of trouble at one of Hinduism’s holiest sites, police said.
The Pashupati Area Development Trust, a religious body that organises the festival, urged pilgrims to refrain from politics inside the temple.
”All activities other than religious, cultural and traditional have been banned from the temple premises,” it said in a statement.