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India steps up pressure on Nepal to restore democracy

Written by: Staff

Kathmandu, Apr 19: Prime Minister's special envoy Karan Singh and Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran arrived here today as India took a fresh initiative to prevail upon Nepal King Gyanendra to restore democracy in the Himalayan Kingdom.

Dr Karan Singh, accompanied by Pankaj Saran, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, landed at the Tribhuvan International Airport this afternoon.

''India always want peace and prosperity in Nepal and I am hopeful that the present crisis will be solved soon,'' he told medipersons at the airport.

Mr Saran arrived here on a Druk Air flight this morning from Bhutan.

Mr Saran and Dr Singh are scheduled to hold talks with various party leaders including Nepali Congress Presdent Girija prasad Koirala, former Prime Ministers Sher Bahadur Deuba, Surya Bahadur Thapa and CPN-UML leaders Amrit Bohara and Bharat Mohan Adhikary this evening.

Reuters adds: A woman hit on the face by a tear gas shell during a protest died yesterday, taking the death toll in the campaign to six. Hundreds have been wounded in police action against protesters and hundreds of others arrested.

The anti-monarchy campaign by a seven-party alliance has brought the kingdom to a standstill with nationwide street protests and a general strike, which has stopped the movement of food and fuel. Giant neighbour India has expressed worry because of the long, porous border it shares with Nepal.

''I bring prayers and hope that Nepal will get out of the present difficult situation and return to peace and prosperity,'' the Indian envoy, Karan Singh, told reporters at Kathmandu's airport.

Earlier, Dr Singh told an Indian TV channel: ''It is not our intention to interfere in the internal affairs of another country but the last thing that we would want is for Nepal to dissolve into chaos because India's vital security interests are involved.

''Our human interests are involved. There's an open border between Nepal and India and our commitment to parliamentary democracy is there.'' Dr Singh is the scion of the royal family of Kashmir and is related to King Gyanendra by marriage. He was to meet political representatives later today and call on the king tomorrow.

Mr Saran, the country's top diplomat, might accompany Dr Singh when he calls on the king, local officials said.

FLASHPOINT Diplomats have said events are moving toward a climax.

One flashpoint could come tomorrow at mass rallies called by the political parties, which have vowed to bring out hundreds of thousands of people on the streets.

Sporadic protests took place in the capital and other towns today but activists appeared to be reserving their strength for tomorrow.

About 250 school and university teachers were arrested when they staged a rally in the western town of Pokhara, where authorities have clamped a curfew to block anti-monarchy demonstrations.

Fifty teachers were arrested in a protest in Kathmandu.

The United States and India have called repeatedly for the restoration of democracy.

King Gyanendra sacked the government and assumed full power in February 2005, vowing to crush a decade-old Maoist revolt in which more than 13,000 people have died.

He has offered to hold elections by April next year, but activists say he cannot be trusted and should immediately hand over power to an all-party government.

The king came under further pressure yesterday when three top human rights groups called for international sanctions against the monarch and top Nepali officials, accusing them of being ''impervious to the suffering'' of the Nepalese people.

''He (the king) and his officials have been responsible for serious human rights violations, including the arbitrary arrest and detention of thousands of critics, torture and ill-treatment of detainees ...,'' Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists said in a statement.

Despite the pressure, the World Bank's representative to the country said the economy could hold out for months even if Nepal was internationally isolated.

''How long has Burma (Myanmar) survived?'' Ken-ichi Ohashi said in an interview with Reuters. ''I think evidence is pretty clear that if a country decides to endure some hardship, the economy just doesn't collapse very easily.

''It seems pretty obvious to me that the biggest pressure comes from whether people come out in large numbers.

''If a million people came out, I think the king would have certainly have to take notice. Donors threatening to cut aid I don't think is going to do it.''


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