Nepal's king dismisses government, cuts nation off from world


Published: Tuesday, February 1, 2005 at 1:15 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 1, 2005 at 1:15 p.m.

King Gyanendra dismissed Nepal's government and imposed a state of emergency on Tuesday, cutting off his Himalayan nation from the rest of the world as telephone and Internet lines were severed, flights diverted and civil liberties severely curtailed.

Tuesday's move was the second time in three years that the king has taken control of the tiny South Asian constitutional monarchy, a throwback to the era of absolute power enjoyed by Nepal's kings before King Birendra, the current king's elder brother, introduced democracy in 1990.

King Gyanendra denied his takeover was a coup, although soldiers surrounded the houses of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and other government leaders.

In an announcement on state-run television, the king accused the government of failing to conduct parliamentary elections and being unable to restore peace in the country, which is beset by rebel violence.

Gyanendra also suspended several provisions in the constitution including the freedoms of press, speech and expression; the freedom to assemble peacefully, the right to privacy, the constitutional protection against news censorship, and the right against preventive detention, according to a statement from the Narayanhiti Palace.

"We will oppose this step," Deuba, who was not allowed to leave his home, told reporters. "The move directly violates the constitution and is against democracy."

The Nepali Congress, the country's largest party, said the king had "pushed the country towards further complications" and called for a joint protest.

The king was also criticized by India, Nepal's southern neighbor and close ally.

"These developments constitute a serious setback to the cause of democracy in Nepal and cannot but be a cause of grave concern to India," the Indian foreign ministry said in a statement.

India said the king's move had "violated" the Nepalese constitution, which enshrines a multiparty democracy alongside a constitutional monarchy.

In Katmandu, armored military vehicles with mounted machine guns were patrolling the streets of Katmandu, the capital, and phone lines in the city had been cut. Many flights into Katmandu were canceled amid the uncertainty or turned back by Nepalese authorities, although the airport remained open.

Long lines quickly formed at grocery stores and gas stations, as worried residents stocked up on supplies.

"We are so confused. We don't know what is going on or what will happen," said Narayan Thapa, a government worker in Katmandu. "I am worried I can't reach my family on the phone."

In an announcement on state-run television, the king accused the government of failing to conduct parliamentary elections and being unable to restore peace in the country, which is beset by rebel violence.

"A new Cabinet will be formed under my leadership," he said, accusing political parties of plunging the country into crisis. "This will restore peace and effective democracy in this country within the next three years."

Later, state-run television reported that a state of emergency had been declared.

The monarch, who is also the supreme commander of the 78,000-member Royal Nepalese Army, said security forces would be given more power to maintain law and order. But he insisted human rights would be respected.

Deuba also was fired as prime minister in October 2002, sparking mass street protests demanding the restoration of a democratically elected government.

The king reinstated Deuba last year with the task of holding parliamentary elections by March 2005 and conducting peace talks with the Maoist rebels.

Nepal has been in turmoil since Gyanendra, 55, suddenly assumed the crown in 2001 after his brother, King Birendra, was gunned down in a palace massacre apparently committed by Birendra's son, the crown prince, who also died. Ten members of the royal family were killed.

Riots shook Katmandu after the killings. Soon after, fighting intensified between government forces and the rebels, who control large parts of Nepal's countryside.

The rebels, who draw inspiration from the late Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, have been trying since 1996 to overthrow the government and establish a socialist state. They have refused the government's invitation to come into the mainstream of Nepalese politics and end the violence. More than 10,500 people have died since the fighting began.

Democracy and royalty have long had a difficult relationship in Nepal.

Gyanendra's late father, King Mahendra, established a rubber-stamp government and parliament but retained absolute power and outlawed political parties. The absolute monarchy ended when street demonstrations forced the king to give way to a multiparty government in 1990.

Timeline of events in Nepal since King Gyanendra's enthronement

Key events sence King Gyanendra took power:

2001:

June 1 - King Birendra and his family members are assassinated by his son, Crown Prince Dipendra, in a shooting spree at the royal palace. The prince goes into a coma from apparently self-inflicted gunshot wounds.

June 2 - Crown Prince Dipendra declared king while still in coma. King Birendra's brother, Prince Gyanendra, declared regent.

June 4 - Dipendra dies, Gyanendra declared king. Anti-Gyanendra protests are held in the capital, Katmandu, where a curfew is imposed.

July - Maoist rebels step up violence, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala resigns.

July - Sher Bahadur Deuba named new prime minister, announces truce with rebels.

Aug. 30 - Government, rebels begin peace talks. Rebels demand new constitution.

November - Maoists kill 24 policemen in attacks at 15 sites, ending four-month cease-fire.

Nov. 26 - King Gyanendra declares state of emergency.

2002:

May - Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba meets with President Bush to seek support for his campaign against the rebels. Bush pledges $20 million. Maoists offer truce, which is rejected by the government.

May 22 - King Gyanendra dissolves Parliament, orders fresh elections. Deuba expelled by his party the Nepali Congress, but remains interim prime minister.

Aug. 28 - Government lifts state of emergency.

Oct. 4 - King Gyanendra fires Deuba calling him "incompetent" and incapable of holding elections on schedule. Deuba had asked for the postponement of voting due to fears of rebel violence.

2003:

January 29 - Rebels declare cease-fire, begin peace talks with government.

May 30 - Prime Minister Lokendra Bahadur Chand, Deuba's replacement, resigns.

June 4 - King Gyanendra appoints monarchist Surya Bahadur Thapa, 75, as new prime minister.

July 31 - Maoist rebels agree to government requests for a resumption of peace talks.

Aug. 27 - Maoist rebels call off seven-month cease-fire and withdraw from peace talks. Fighting resumes.

2004:

May 7 - Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa announces his resignation after 11 months in office and months of protests by political parties demanding a restoration of democracy.

June 2 - King Gyanendra reappoints Deuba as prime minister with the task of holding elections.

August - Nepalese rebels enforce blockade on Katmandu, cutting it off from rest of Nepal for a week, demanding the government free jailed guerrillas.

2005:

Feb. 1 - King Gyanendra dismisses government and declares a state of emergency, taking control of the kingdom.

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