Nepalese Celebrate Return To Multiparty System
KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) _ Tens of thousands of Nepalese paraded through Katmandu in a delirium of joy today, chanting ″Victory, Victory″ as this mountain monarchy celebrated the establishment of a multiparty system.
In a stunning announcement late Sunday, just two days after police shot and killed as many as 200 pro-democracy protesters, King Birendra lifted a 29-year ban on political parties.
The city sprang to life early today after a two-day curfew was lifted, but doctors said security forces had opened fire on celebrants Sunday night. Relatives of a man and a 12-year-old boy said the two were shot and killed.
Doctors at Bir Hospital said five other people were being treated for bullet wounds. The people who took the casualties to the hospital reported at least 10 other people were killed and their bodies taken away by the troops, the doctors said on condition of anonymity.
The reports could not be confirmed. Police denied there was any firing.
The 7-week-old pro-democracy campaign snowballed last week as strikes spread and more people took to the streets. On Friday, police opened fire on a crowd of more than 200,000 people marching toward the royal palace.
Witnesses said as many as 200 people were killed but the government said only 10 people died and 107 were wounded. It was Nepal’s worst bloodshed in more than a century.
Today, hundreds of processions by foot, cars and motor-powered rickshaws wound through the capital’s main streets.
″Today we will celebrate our freedom. We have no definite plan, but we only want to express our joy,″ said Yagya Nidhi Duhal, his face smeared with red powder used by Nepalese during celebrations.
Most other processionists, including several Western tourists, sported the powder mark on their foreheads.
Hundreds of troops who had been patrolling Katmandu and its suburbs assembled in a central park today preparing to return to barracks. Dozens of armored personnel carriers were withdrawn overnight.
Revelries started shortly before midnight Sunday, when King Birendra’s proclamation was announced on state television and radio.
The movement for greater democracy was launched Feb. 18 by the Nepali Congress Party and the United Left Front, a coalition of left-wing parties.
Early today, marchers carried the red and white flags of the Nepali Congress, hugged each other and shouted: ″Panchayat thieves go back. Hang the Panchayat,″ referring to the partyless national assembly, the Rashtriya Panchayat.
″When I was born 30 years ago, I could not breathe. Today I am like a free bird. I am so happy I want to fly,″ schoolteacher Nagendra Amatya said at Bir Hospital, where he had gone to meet the top Nepali Congress leader, Ganesh Man Singh.
Singh, who had led the movement from his hospital bed for the past week, walked out of his room today for the first time to greet people. He had been under house arrest before being taken to the hospital for treatment of arthritis and a urinary infection.
″Our responsiblity has increased. The struggle for democracy was difficult, but it will be more difficult to maintain the democracy,″ the 75- year-old Singh said as he slowly walked out of his ward, aided by a stout stick and two associates.
Foreign Minister Pashupati Rani said Sunday that elections for the yet- undissolved national assembly would be held soon, but gave no date.
For 50 days, hundreds of thousands of people had taken part in demonstrations for a new political system in Nepal, where the monarchy wielded almost absolute power.
There had been demonstrations in the past, but support was limited to students and a small circle of political agitators. The current campaign drew doctors, lawyers and teachers who went on strike.
Then, the pilots of Royal Air Nepal walked off their jobs, followed by staffers in several state-run banks and even government ministries.
Before police opened fire on demonstrators Friday, at least 16 people were killed in the ballooning movement.
But Friday’s bloodshed jolted the normally tranquil country, where the largely illiterate peasantry had revered the monarch as a reincarnation of the Hindu god Shiva. Not since 1846, when feuding members of the royal household battled had Nepal seen such bloodshed.
Birendra, 44, is the heir of the Shaha dynasty that has held the throne since the middle of the 18th century.
The kingdom’s only previous experiment with Western-style democracy lasted less than two years and came to a halt in 1961 when Birendra’s father, King Mahendra, dismissed the Nepali Congress government, accusing it of corruption and inefficiency.
Until Sunday, political parties had been banned and the king had ruled with the rubber stamp National Assembly. Birendra selected one-fifth of the assembly’s members. The rest were elected on a nonparty basis, but political observers said all candidates were approved by the palace.