- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 19, 2006

KATMANDU, Nepal — Security forces fired on thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators in southeastern Nepal yesterday, killing at least two, and the government reimposed a curfew in the capital to prevent a massive rally urging the king to loosen his grip on power.

Two weeks of bloody opposition protests and a general strike against the rule of King Gyanendra have paralyzed Nepal, leaving the country at its most volatile since the monarch seized power 14 months ago. At least 10 persons have been killed during the demonstrations.

Officials said security forces in Chandragadi, about 310 miles southeast of Katmandu, opened fire after being shot at by protesters, who also hurled bricks and debris. The government has made similar assertions during the past two weeks, but those accounts have not been confirmed independently.

The region’s chief administrator, Bhola Siwakoti, also said the protesters defied a ban in the town and were sacking government and private property.

There were conflicting reports of how many were killed. The Defense Ministry said two persons were dead, but a Nepalese official said four were killed, and an official from the United Nations said five were killed.

The latest deaths bring to at least 10 the number of people killed by security forces during the protests. Since the opposition campaign began April 6, ordinary Nepalese have joined students and political activists in rallies.

Hours before the shootings yesterday, the royal government freed two top opposition leaders — Madhav Kumar Nepal of the Communist Party of Nepal and Ram Chandra Poudel of the Nepali Congress — who had been jailed for three months. Both pledged to join the protests.

Many here saw the releases as an attempt by the king to show flexibility on the day an Indian special envoy arrived to press him to compromise with the opposition.

“I am always optimistic,” said envoy Karan Singh, who began talks with the opposition yesterday and was to meet Gyanendra today.

The United States, meanwhile, again urged Gyanendra to restore democracy, with outgoing White House spokesman Scott McClellan saying in Washington that the unrest in Nepal “will only worsen.”

“Arrests and violence accompanying the pro-democracy demonstrations only add to the insecurity and compound the serious problem facing Nepal,” he told reporters.

The royal government summoned U.S. Ambassador James F. Moriarty on Tuesday to protest the envoy’s remarks that the king could end up fleeing the Himalayan nation if he did not compromise with the opposition.

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