- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 8, 2006

KATMANDU, Nepal — Rebel attacks, soldiers shooting protesters and low turnout tainted Nepal’s first election in seven years yesterday, dealing a blow to the king who seized power a year ago.

Six persons, including a protester shot by the army, were killed in election-day violence. Three rebels were killed the day before the vote.

Voters trickled into schools, Buddhist shrines and Hindu temples to cast ballots in the municipal elections, but many people said they were scared away by a rebel threat to kill anyone who participated and a government warning that anyone caught disrupting the vote would be shot.

Chief Election Commissioner Keshav Raj Rajbhandari said a preliminary estimate put turnout at more than 20 percent.

The Maoist rebels claimed success, calling off a general strike three days early because they had “been successful in foiling the elections.” The strike, which began Sunday, emptied streets and shuttered businesses and schools.

King Gyanendra seized absolute power Feb. 1, 2005, saying it was necessary to end corruption and defeat the rebels, whose decade-long fight for a communist state has cost 12,000 lives. But fighting has persisted in the Himalayan land of about 27 million people, and the economy has worsened. Per capita income is less than $25 a month.

Billed by the royal government as a step toward democracy, the municipal elections were intended to solidify Gyanendra’s position in a power struggle that has pitted the monarchy against the rebels and political parties pressing for democracy.

But the rebel threats and a boycott by nearly every major political party, which called the vote a sham, resulted in candidates’ registering in fewer than half of the 4,000 races for mayor and other local positions.

In the southwestern town of Dang, the army said, “soldiers were compelled to open fire” on about 150 protesters trying to interfere with the vote, killing one and injuring another.

Rebels killed a policeman and civilian, bombed 12 government buildings and destroyed the bank in the town of Dhankuta, police said. Two rebels were killed, the Defense Ministry said.

Another rebel was killed in a clash with soldiers in the western town of Dhangadi, the army said.

Analysts said the low turnout, coupled with protests and rebel attacks ahead of the election, had left the king vulnerable.

“It clearly shows that people do not have faith in the king’s promises and his pledge to turn back the country to democracy,” said Dhruba Adhikary, an independent analyst.


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