- The Washington Times - Monday, April 17, 2006

KATMANDU, Nepal — With defiance of royal rule spreading, security forces fatally shot a fifth protester yesterday while King Gyanendra searched for a way out of a crisis that has plunged the Himalayan land into its worst turmoil since he seized absolute power 14 months ago.

Twelve days of often-bloody pro-democracy protests and a general strike have emptied Nepal’s highways, leaving cities short of fresh food and fuel. At one Katmandu hotel yesterday, the dinner menu was scribbled on a pink Post-it-style note.

As darkness fell on the capital, thousands of protesters again rampaged on Katmandu’s outskirts, blocking roads with burning barricades and hurling bricks at police. Officers responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and baton charges.

The anti-royalist sentiment was as thick as the smoke. “We will hang Gyanendra over flames. The king will burn,” Arjun Prasad, 22, declared as he stood near a flaming pile of tires.

In Nijgadh, 75 miles south of Katmandu, thousands of people were marching through town when security forces opened fire with live ammunition, killing one protester and wounding five, a local official said. The death was the fifth caused by security forces in recent days.

The five wounded protesters were hospitalized with serious injuries, the official said.

Since the opposition campaign began April 6, daily protests have hit nearly every city and town in this Hindu kingdom once known as Shangri-La, a magnet for Western hippies in search of Eastern spirituality and mountain climbers looking to scale peaks like Mount Everest.

Ordinary Nepalese have joined the rallies alongside the usual cast of students and political activists. Lawyers, doctors and even the disabled have organized their own demonstrations.

The king appeared to be seriously considering relinquishing at least some of the power he seized when he closed parliament in February 2005 — a move he said was needed to restore order and crush a communist insurgency that has killed nearly 13,000 people over the past decade.

A palace official said Gyanendra met yesterday with two former prime ministers — Krishna Prasad Bhattarai and Suraya Bahadur Thapa — to explore the possibility of appointing a prime minister.

Mr. Bhattarai, an 82-year-old former leader of the Nepali Congress, which is one of the seven political parties organizing the democracy protests, declined to discuss what was talked about at the meeting. “There will be changes,” he told reporters.

The opposition parties said there would be no compromise. They are demanding a new constitution that would limit — or even eliminate — the monarchy’s role.

“We have not been asked by the palace, and even if we are called for the meeting, we will not go,” said Krishna Sitaula of the Nepali Congress, the country’s largest party.

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