The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Palace summons politicians
Activist killed, Nepal begins to feel pinch

Kathmandu, April 17: Nerves are snapping and fuel supplies running short in Nepal as the palace opened lines of communication with three former Prime Ministers.

The relentless cat-and-mouse game on the streets began telling on the security forces with a squad opening fire from the roof of a bank on a crowd, killing one pro-democracy activist and injuring scores.

The crowd was demonstrating outside the Agricultural Development Bank in Nijgadh, around 200 km south of Kathmandu, this afternoon when Hiralal Gautam was gunned down.

Gautam is the fifth political activist to be killed since the pro-democracy movement began 12 days ago. More than 400 injured people are undergoing treatment in several places, while nearly 2,000 have been detained.

In Kathmandu valley, police opened fire on a demonstration around 4 km from the Narayanhiti Palace, injuring nearly a dozen people.

With the movement picking up steam, King Gyanendra called former prime ministers Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, Lokendra Bahadur Chand and Surya Bahadur Thapa to the palace.

Bhattarai later told reporters that the talks were fruitful and he had asked king to activate the constitution. “I requested king to restore democracy.”

Thapa said the monarch heard him out for nearly an hour. According to him, Gyanendra is extremely worried about the situation. “I believe that he will soon initiate remedial action. The king will restore democracy soon,” he said.

While Bhattarai is the founding father of Nepal’s largest political party, the Nepali Congress, Thapa and Chand are hardcore royalists who served as Prime Ministers a few years ago after Gyanendra dismissed the elected Sher Bahadur Deuba government.

Sources said the moves the king could take included calling the seven-party alliance leading the campaign for talks, releasing all those detained in the protests and handing over power to political parties ahead of elections.

But an analyst said: “Whatever he offers may not satisfy the movement. The movement has gone far beyond even what the parties had expected.”

Officials said an army-escorted convoy of trucks bringing in food and fuel had set off for Kathmandu from the southern town of Birganj, on the border with India and the main transit point for goods flowing into the landlocked nation.

A strike in support of the campaign has sent food prices shooting up and triggered a fuel shortage. Hundreds of cars and motorcycles were queued at gas stations in Kathmandu and pump owners had begun impromptu rationing.

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