Police raid underground political meeting in Nepal

Saturday, February 5, 2005

KATMANDU, Nepal -- Dozens of paramilitary police raided an underground political meeting and rounded up a group of party officials Friday, days after the king seized power and banned public gatherings in the Himalayan kingdom. About 50 members of the Nepali Congress-Democratic Party had gathered in the yard of its headquarters when the police arrived and surrounded the building. While most of the party members slipped out in the minutes after the raid, about a dozen were left inside when police locked the gates.

Reporters and photographers covering the meeting, from both the Nepalese and international media, also were held briefly. Authorities confiscated digital camera disks and videotape from the journalists -- including a team from The Associated Press and Associated Press Television News -- before telling them to leave.

It was not immediately clear whether the party members were arrested, or were later freed.

Nepal has been in political turmoil since Tuesday, when King Gyanendra dismissed the government of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and declared a state of emergency, taking power for himself. He also suspended most civil liberties and cut telephone and Internet lines.

In his speech announcing the state of emergency, the king accused the government of failing to bring the country's communist insurgency under control and call parliamentary elections.

The king suspended several provisions of the constitution, including freedom of the press, speech and expression, peaceful assembly, the right to privacy, and the right against preventive detention.

Since then, dozens of politicians have been detained or put under house arrest, including Deuba, who is a member of the Nepali Congress-Democratic. Strict censorship has also been imposed on Nepal's media.

Security forces shot at least one protester Tuesday during a demonstration against the king's seizure of power, a local journalist said. The protester's condition was not known.

Dozens of students poured from a college in the central Nepal resort town of Pokhara just after the king's announcement, throwing stones at police, who responded by firing tear gas, the journalist said on condition his name not be used.

When police couldn't break up the protest, they opened fire into the crowd, injuring at least one student, he said.

The journalist spoke by phone from Pokhara during a brief period Friday when domestic telephone service was restored.

The daughter of former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala -- who heads the Nepali Congress party -- told APTN on Friday that her 81-year-old father was under house arrest.

Decrying Gyanendra's power grab, she said the king now faces two forces: the Maoist rebels and the ousted politicians.

"I don't know how the king is going to survive," Sujata Koirala said.

A number of political leaders were meeting underground, trying to work out how they would oppose the king's actions, she said, calling on the international community to impose sanctions on Nepal and stop "giving aid to this dictatorial government."

Deuba was also dismissed by Gyanendra in 2002, sparking mass protests demanding the restoration of an elected government. The king reinstated Deuba last year with the task of holding elections by next month and conducting peace talks with the rebels.

Gyanendra, 55, assumed the crown in 2001 after his brother, Birendra, was gunned down in a palace massacre apparently committed by Birendra's son, the crown prince, who also died.

Riots shook Katmandu after the killings and fighting intensified between government forces and the rebels.

The rebels, who say they are inspired by the late Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, have been trying since 1996 to overthrow the government and establish a socialist state. More than 10,500 people have died since the fighting began.

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