Nepalese celebrate first anniversary of return of democracy
Apr 24, 2007 - 4:42:09 PM

Kathmandu, April 24 - An old palace and the open space that was once usurped by the army became the rallying point of tens of thousands of people as they celebrated Tuesday the first anniversary of restoration of democracy in Nepal following the fall of King Gyanendra's regime this day last year.

The sea of people converging in a mass meeting at the square of the old Basantpur palace in Kathmandu city also held out a warning for Nepal's political leaders.

'The pro-democracy struggle is alive,' said a banner. 'We want to see the common man's son as the first president of Nepal,' the people demanded. 'We want to see the Narayanhity royal palace become the president's quarters.'

The crowd asked the new eight-party government when it would hold the much-awaited election that would put monarchy to vote.

In April last year, rallies had snaked their way from Kalanki and Gangobhu, two prime areas where pro-democracy protests erupted, with the people, opposition parties and the Maoist guerrillas coming together to launch Nepal's 'April Revolution'.

The public rallies by unarmed protesters had continued for 19 days despite fierce crackdown by the security forces, in which 25 people died and scores were severely injured. The kingdom came to a standstill with educational institutions, industries, transport and shops and markets closing down in solidarity.

In a last bid to save his face, King Gyanendra offered on April 21, 2006, to hand over power to a prime minister chosen by the seven main opposition parties, an offer that was spurned by the alliance.

Finally, nearly at midnight on April 24, a grim-faced king announced in a televised address that he was reinstating parliament, dissolved four years ago, and stepping down as head of government. The night skies resounded with jubilation as thousands poured out into the streets after the royal address, whooping in glee and demanding abolition of monarchy.

A year later, the demand is still there.

'Is it the king or the prime minister, who's trying to obstruct the election?' a student leader said. 'We want to tell them that we are watching to see if the parties are trying honestly to fulfil the aspirations of the martyrs.'

Calls for the government to hold the election started pouring in from abroad as well.

As foreign governments congratulated Nepal on the restoration of democracy, Denmark added a warning note.

'Among the major challenges in front of Nepal are the elections for a Constituent Assembly,' a statement issued by the Danish embassy in Kathmandu said.

'The Constituent Assembly will have to prepare a new constitution - the very foundation of a new Nepal.

'Elections to the Constituent Assembly must be free and fair and inclusive - and all spheres of the Nepalese society must work together to secure that such elections can take place as soon as possible.'

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