Nepal’s King Orders Release of Political Prisoners
KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) _ King Birendra on Thursday announced a general amnesty for political prisoners in the Himalayan kingdom, most of whom were jailed for violating a ban on political parties.
A statement from the palace said the king made the decision on the advice of Prime Minister Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, who took office last month after a two-month campaign for greater democracy.
Political prisoners were arrested under the Association and Organization Control Act, a 1961 law that banned membership to political parties or any other political affiliation.
The law was taken off the books last month in this nation of 17 million residents, a week before leaders of the pro-democracy movement formed the government.
Chief government spokesman Radhey Shyam Bista said the number of prisoners detained under the act was ″being worked out.″ He declined to give a rough estimate.
The pro-democracy movement broke the monarch’s 29-year-old grip on power in Nepal. Previously, the Cabinet was chosen from a partyless National Assembly.
One-fifth of the assembly’s 140 members were nominated by the king and, political observers say, candidates for the other posts were screened by the palace before being allowed to stand for elections.
The leaders of the pro-democracy movement have promised to hold free elections by next April and say they will reform the present constitution, which gives the king sweeping legislative, executive and judicial powers.