The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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King running out of options

Kathmandu, Feb. 9 (Reuters): Elections called by Nepal’s King Gyanendra to convince his people he is moving towards democracy have backfired, with a low turnout signalling a rejection of his power grab and the polls triggering fresh protests today.

Analysts say the unpopular king is running out of options and his days may be numbered.

The government says yesterday’s local elections for mayors and other minor officials were part of moves to put Nepal back onto the road to democracy after Gyanendra sacked the government and took control on February 1 last year.

But only 20 per cent of voters turned out ' compared with more than 60 per cent last time such polls were held ' in what analysts have called a resounding rejection in what was effectively a mini-referendum on royal rule.

The government blamed a boycott by political parties and threats by Maoist rebels.

“It has further deepened the crisis for the king,” Tribhuvan University political lecturer Lok Raj Baral said.

“He has reached the point of no return. It helped further polarise political forces into monarchist and anti-monarchist. The king is alone. He is totally isolated internally and internationally.”

The killing by soldiers of an anti-poll protester during the vote sparked protests in Kathmandu today, with police firing tear gas in one violent clash with brick-throwing youths.

Later, 3,000 angry protesters marched through residential streets demanding the release of the activist’s body, now in a Kathmandu hospital after a post mortem. Diplomats fear the political crisis and a 10-year Maoist revolt could spiral out of control and the country, sandwiched between India and China, could become a haven for international militant groups.

Washington described the polls as a “hollow attempt” by the monarch to legitimise his rule.

“It’s clear that the king does not have support,” said Minendra Rijal, a leader of the Nepali Congress Party (Democratic) who is on the run from police. “This was basically a ploy to sell to the international community that he is interested in democracy, which he is not,” he said. “The world community now knows he has no support.”

Rijal is one of dozens of politicians evading detention. The UN estimates at least 800 political prisoners are in custody. He said the seven main parties will step up protests to force the king to talk to them and bring the Maoists into the political process.

Baral said Gyanendra was running out of options, with the guerrillas and the parties united in their demand for a constituent Assembly.

“There is no alternative. It is becoming a national consensus,” he said. “(But) if he accepts a constituent Assembly without any preconditions, his position is at stake.”

So far the parties, themselves unpopular after years of turbulent misrule, have been unable to ignite a large-scale people's movement against the palace.

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