Tranquil Himalayan Kingdom Turning Into Sea of Hatred
KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) _ This tranquil Himalayan kingdom’s capital is becoming a sea of violence and hatred, and the latest target is the police force widely despised for its longtime repression of pro-democracy activists.
Until a few months ago, Nepal was known more for its mountains, tourist resorts and trekking trails than for riots, curfews and shootings by police.
Then came a crescendo of people power. Police tried to crush it and failed. In mid-April, King Birendra loosened his grip on absolute power and let the long-banned political opposition take the reins of government.
A backlash against the old system has been let loose, and the police are the target.
″The pro-democracy activists were harassed so much (by the police) that the hatred became so intense,″ said Lok Raj Baral, a professor of political science at Katmandu’s Tribhuvan University.
″The people really hate us like anything,″ a police inspector said, a steel helmet on his head and a bamboo shield wrapped around his body. He spoke from the safe side of a locked gate at his police station.
On Monday, mobs captured and beat to death six policemen, accusing them of belonging to an underground right-wing, pro-monarchy group. Two of the victims were paraded through the streets and pummeled for six hours before they died. Police shot back and five civilians were killed.
At least 17 policemen were injured when the marauding crowd attacked several police stations.
On Wednesday, angry policemen chanting ″Blood for blood 3/8″ called for revenge at a funeral for some of the officers.
The violence came 2 1/2 weeks after police fired on a crowd of 200,000 pro-democracy demonstrators, killing scores of people in the worst day of violence in Nepal in more than a century. Witnesses claimed as many as 200 people died in the April 6 shootings.
King Birendra’s government maintained that only 10 people died, but two days later the monarch bowed to demands for democracy and ended a 29-year ban on political parties. A coalition government dominated by pro-democracy forces took office April 19.
After Monday’s riots, thousands of police went into hiding. The mobs had echoed the widespread belief in Katmandu that police condoned - and sometimes joined - the right-wing Mandale underground group.
The Mandale was blamed for arson, mugging and looting that followed the April 19 installation of the new government. Police officials claim the crime rate has not increased significantly.
″It is just a psychological fear of the Mandale,″ said a senior police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Baral suggested the linking of the police force with the Mandale was only an excuse to ″release the pent-up violence of 29 years.″
The Mandale, an abbreviated form of Nepal Vidyarthi Mandal, or Nepal Students Group, went underground in 1979 after King Birendra officially banned it because of its predilection for violence. But the Mandale remain the most hated and feared symbol of the monarchy.
″The easiest way of committing suicide in Nepal today is to proclaim oneself a Mandale member,″ Baral said.
He said the recent violence against police grew out of psychological fear of the Mandale and a hatred of police tactics.
″The Nepalese are becoming more and more violent. People are getting used to killings. Their killer instinct has been aroused,″ he said.
Political demonstrations and overt opposition to the monarchy were virtually unknown in Nepal after 1961 when Birendra’s father, King Mahendra, dismissed the 20-month-old democratically elected government of the Nepali Congress party and introduced a partyless system of government.
Dissent against the system, inspired by the political changes in Eastern Europe, grew only in the last year.
Nepal’s first mass popular movement was launched Feb. 18 by the Nepali Congress and the United Left Front, a coalition of left-wing parties. The two formerly banned groups now dominate the new Cabinet.
Several pro-democracy activists have alleged that they were tortured in police detention. The methods included being immersed in cold water for hours at a time and having pins forced under their finger nails, they said.
The hatred for police appears to have deep roots. ″They are policemen by morning and terrorists by night,″ said taxi driver Salik Ram, spitting vehemently out his car window.
Meanwhile, the government is caught between the deteriorating law and order and its inability to use the police, with its near-zero credibility, to control crime.