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Protesters shut down Nepal capital
Kathmandu, Feb 22 (IANS):
Published on 23 Feb. 2010 12:13 AM IST
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More than a hundred protesters, including a former minister, were arrested as supporters of Nepal’s deposed king went on the warpath in the capital Monday, enforcing a crippling general strike to back their demand for the restoration of the crown and Hinduism as the state religion. Royalist politician Tanka Dhakal, who was information and communications minister during King Gyanendra’s army-backed regime in 2005, and other leaders of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal (RPP-Nepal), the Himalayan republic’s only openly monarchist party, were arrested Monday after the communist-led coalition government beefed up security in the capital and its neighbouring cities of Bhaktapur and Lalitpur. The monarchist party claimed that 600 of its leaders and supporters had been arrested during its peaceful, democratic protest asking for a referendum. Transport, educational institutions, industries and shops and markets remained closed while royalists patrolled key squares in the capital, raising slogans for the restoration of monarchy and a Hindu state. Kamal Thapa, RPP-Nepal chief and former home minister of King Gyanendra, told IANS his party had called a peaceful shutdown of Kathmandu valley to show the government that people supported its demand to hold a referendum to settle three key issues before a new constitution is enforced by May 28. “We want a referendum to decide if Nepal should abolish monarchy, which is still regarded by thousands as a unifying force in Nepal and key component of its unique identity,” Thapa said. “We also want a referendum to let people decide if Nepal should revert to a Hindu state and if it should become a federal nation.” Thapa says his party conducted a signature campaign and over 2 million people - in a nation of 28 million - signed to show their support for a referendum. “If the new constitution is promulgated without addressing a popular public demand, a large segment of people will feel it is not their constitution and could refuse to heed it,” he said. In 2006, after a pro-democracy movement ended King Gyanendra’s regime, Nepal’s parliament voted overwhelmingly to declare the Hindu kingdom a secular state. Then two years later, the country went to the hustings to elect a new constituent assembly that once again voted overwhelmingly to abolish monarchy, reducing the king, regarded as an incarnation of god, to a commoner obliged to pay his taxes and abide by the law of the land. However, RPP-Nepal, that has four members in the 601-seat constituent assembly, says the verdict does not reflect the opinion of the people since they elected the assembly to write a new constitution and not to decide matters of national importance. While the Maoists, Nepal’s former guerrilla party that waged a 10-year battle against Nepal’s royal family, are the biggest opponents of the restoration of monarchy and Hinduism as the state religion, the ruling parties however have leaders who still favour a constitutional monarch and Hinduism as the state religion. Nepal’s senior government officials still adhere to Hindu festivals while not embracing other religious customs. Nepal’s first President Ram Baran Yadav, who replaced the king as head of state in 2008, chose to visit a Hindu religious fair and Hindu holy men during his first visit to India this month while the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sujata Koirala attended the worship of a buffalo in accordance with Hindu customs in southern Nepal Sunday.

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