Three Dead, Curfew in Katmandu After Bloodiest Riots in a Century
KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) _ Soldiers shot and killed three people and imposed an indefinite curfew on Katmandu Saturday after the bloodiest riots in more than a century in this Himalayan kingdom.
It was reportedly the first time that a curfew has been imposed in Nepal.
The government said 10 people were killed and 107 injured during Friday’s demonstration, but witnesses said 300 people may have been killed when police opened fire on 200,000 pro-democracy protesters.
Police shot at the demonstrators, who are demanding a multiparty system, after they set government buildings afire, put up burning barricades and then marched toward the palace.
″It was one of the worst killings ever since the Kot massacre,″ said Devendra Raj Panday, a human rights activist.
He was referring to an 1846 battle between feuding members of the royal household in which at least 55 nobles and scores of soldiers were killed.
Witnesses said at least three people were shot to death early Saturday. Radio Nepal said troops had orders to shoot curfew violators on sight.
Troops shot and killed two women in the Katmandu suburb of Patan, witnesses said. One was fatally wounded while walking to a Hindu temple to pray and another was shot as she looked out of the window of her house, a witness said.
A third body was seen lying in the street, witnesses said.
″The Nepalese people are illiterate. They don’t know what a curfew is. The woman was going to the worship she goes to daily,″ said the witness, who refused to be identified.
Chief government spokesman Radhey Shyam Bista said police opened fire on demonstrators in Patan, but said there were no casualties.
″A few people came out on the streets so police had to open fire,″ he said.
A curfew was also imposed on the town of Butwal, 120 miles west of Katmandu, sources from the banned Nepali Congress Party said.
Prime Minister Lokendra Bahadur Chand met Saturday with Ganesh Man Singh, the top leader of the Nepali Congress, which is at the forefront of the pro- democracy movement, Bista said.
He said no progress was made in the talks, but added that ″the process has been initiated.″
In another conciliatory move, the government released at least 200 people arrested since the start of the campaign. At least 100 people remained in custody, said Panday, the human rights activist.
Witnesses, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they saw three army trucks loaded with bodies leave Katmandu after Friday’s demonstration. A prominent opposition member said his followers reported seeing troops throw about 300 bodies into a mass grave in the Gokarna jungle near Katmandu.
Other witnesses, including a doctor, spoke of seeing 200 to 300 bodies carried away by troops shortly after the firing.
Friday’s demonstrations followed King Birendra’s decree dismissing hard- line Prime Minister Marich Man Shrestha and replacing him with Chand, who is regarded as a moderate.
The king also promised to set up a constitutional reforms committee and investigate accusations of police repression.
But the pro-democracy demonstrators said the king’s proclamation was too little, too late.
About eight hours after the proclamation was read on Radio Nepal, a crowd of 200,000 people marched through Katmandu toward the royal palace. Several government buildings were set afire, and homes of politicians loyal to King Birendra were set ablaze.
Witnesses reported seeing police open fire on the crowd 500 yards from the palace and scores of people fall to the ground.
The pro-democracy campaign, led by the Nepali Congress and the United Left Front, a coalition of socialist groups, started with demonstrations and a few strikes, primarily by doctors and teachers.
The movement snowballed last week when workers in some government ministries, state-run banks and Royal Air Nepal walked off their jobs. Prior to Friday’s clash, at least 16 people had been killed in confrontations with police.
The Himalayan kingdom’s only experiment with Western-style democracy lasted two years and ended in 1961 when Birendra’s father, King Mahendra, dismissed the Nepali Congress government, accusing it of inefficiency and corruption.
The National Assembly, or Rashtriya Panchayat governs with the monarch, but the king is responsible for naming one-fifth of its 140-members. Political observers say the other candidates are elected with approval from the palace.