Nepal's Maoists, parties try to turn up heat on king
KATHMANDU, Mar 23 (Reuters) The government calls it an ''unholy alliance'' but Nepal's Maoist rebels and political parties are working together for the first time to turn up the heat on King Gyanendra who seized power last year.
The rebels are flexing their military muscles by stepping up attacks on towns and police posts. At least 55 people have died this week alone, since the Maoists abandoned a six-day road blockade of the country's main towns on Sunday.
They are also throwing their weight behind a general strike and series of protests called by the political parties from April 6. It is the first real indication of coordination on the ground since the rebels and the parties formed a loose alliance in November to force King Gyanendra to relinquish his powers.
''They want to press the king from both sides,'' said defence analyst Indrajit Rai.
Analysts say the rebels know they can never hope for a military victory, but want to keep the pot boiling. They abandoned a unilateral ceasefire in January after the government refused to match it.
''They demonstrate their military strength to give a message that their willingness to be part of the (peace) process is not due to weakness,'' said Yubaraj Ghimire, editor of the Samay weekly magazine.
Nepali political leaders and the rebels held a series of meetings in New Delhi last year, culminating in November's announcement of a loose alliance to end ''the autocratic monarchy''.
The 12-point deal included a rebel commitment to eventually rejoin the political mainstream as well as allowing political parties to operate freely in the countryside where the rebels hold sway.
The two sides reaffirmed their ''strong commitment'' to the deal last Sunday.
Focus will now shift to the April strike and the latest in a long series of protests called by the main political parties.
Demonstrations have become an almost daily occurence in Nepal's temple-studded capital Kathmandu, with hundreds or thousands of people chanting slogans against the king.
But the rallies have not captured the public imagination or come close to the 1990 pro-democracy protests that forced Gyanendra's brother to end decades of absolute monarchy and introduce multi-party democracy.
The political parties were widely criticised for corruption and misrule when they had the chance to run the country, and this has undermined their ability to bring people onto the streets.
While the parties' track record is unimpressive, the king is not popular either and looks increasingly isolated both politically and diplomatically, analysts say.
''Morally and constitutionally, the king is getting weaker,'' Ghimire said.
Many Nepalis are fed up with everyone who claims to represent them and just want peace.
''Whoever gives us peace it's okay -- the king, political parties or the Maoists, I don't care,'' 26-year-old motor mechanic Kabir Shakya said.
The Maoists want to topple the monarchy and set up a single-party communist republic in the impoverished Himalayan nation. More than 13,000 people have died in the conflict since it started in 1996.
REUTERS SK SSC1212