Wednesday, April 12, 2006

They're shooting them over there

Fourteen months ago, Nepal's King Gyanendra sacked his government and declared a state of emergency, suspending all basic human rights including the freedom of thought. Now, the Nepalese people have had enough. For the past six days, there have been mass protests across Nepal, backed by all political parties including the Maoist rebels. And the government's only answer is bullets. Two people were shot and wounded in Pokhara today, and another dozen in the capital Kathmandu. Three have been shot dead in as many days, hundreds wounded, and over a thousand jailed for daring to demand a return to democracy. But I don't really think this is going to do much to convince the Nepalese that their government is legitimate. At best all it can do is terrorise them into submission. Unfortunately, as far as governments are concerned, that's usually good enough.

What can we do? Unfortunately, not much. Nepal doesn't have an embassy in New Zealand to protest outside, or even an honorary consul to send messages to. As with Belarus, all we can do is wish the opposition luck and hope for the best.


As it happens, I have been in Kathmandu since the curfew began on Saturday. My hotel does not have internet connectivity (person with passwords can't get to work due to the curfew), so I've been sans internet until tonight.

I have yet to find a Nepali who is satisfied with how the King has been handling things. The curfew has alienated people who were previously a-political. The soldiers were OK for the first few days, but last night they were very tense. I suspect this is because some of their number were injured in the unrest.

Judging from Nepali TV, the unrest looks very similar to the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Both protesters *and* security forces were heaving bricks at each other.

Today (Tuesday), the curfew was relaxed to a civilised 12pm till 5pm. It appears we are being weaned on to freedom. How droll.

Turns out that Western tourists can usually escape the curfew and are generally let through the checkpoints. I've seen this happen myself outside our hotel. Me and my friends refuse to do this because it shows a distinct lack of solidarity.

Interestingly, the curfew seems to only be intact in the city centre and on main arterials. Yesterday we spent the day in a suburb. I went for a walk and the locals were all out having a chilled out good time. Some shops were closed, but there was no feeling of imminent threat. Very reassuring.

Posted by Mikaere Curtis : 4/12/2006 03:40:00 AM

Mikaere obviously knows much more than I do, but I suspect the government's writ doesn't run far outside the Kathmandu valley and a few other places (and maybe not even everywhere there). When I was there in 2002 most of the countryside was more or less controlled by the Maoists, with occasional sweeps by the government forces. This put the locals in an awkward position, to put it mildly, because the Maoists would tell them to put up a poster, for instance, and the army would turn up and they would be in trouble.

Amazingly, this hardly affected tourists, who were almost entirely left alone. While trekking we met some British Army people (in civvies) who told us that they had been briefed not to go to certain areas - we had no problems there.

I wonder if the Indians will intervene - they've condemned the Nepali government - I suspect they could force the King into exile and install some sort of interim government quite easily. I'd think they'd be sensibly wary of that, however.

Posted by Rich : 4/12/2006 03:03:00 PM