Monday, March 31, 2008

Nepal royalists warn of civil war if king ousted

* Analyst believes ouster would push country into Maoist-Hindu violence

KATHMANDU: Allies of Nepal’s embattled king have warned that the Himalayan nation could slide back into civil war if landmark elections next month lead to abolition of the monarchy.

Several prominent royalists insisted many people in the deeply traditional Hindu-majority nation wanted the 239-year-old institution to stay and were opposed to the rise of former Maoist rebels, in interviews with AFP. The April 10 polls will be a culmination of a peace deal between the republican Maoists and mainstream secular parties that ended a decade-long insurgency aimed at toppling the monarchy that claimed 13,000 lives.

The ex-rebels and the parties have already agreed King Gyanendra will have to go after the polls to elect a body that will rewrite Nepal’s constitution.

But Major General Bharat Keshwer Simha, a long-time royal aide who accompanied the royals on foreign visits for decades, forecast a violent backlash in the impoverished nation wedged between India and China.

Maoist-Hindu: “If the Maoists can take up arms and come to power, Hindus will also take up arms. It will be worse than the Maoists’ war and many people will be killed,” he said. Kunda Dixit, editor of the English language weekly Nepali Times, agreed the king would not take the abolition of his dynasty lying down. “Given the personality of the king, he’s not the type that is going to step down quietly,” Dixit said. But he saw the monarchists’ dire warnings as a last-ditch bid to try to derail the elections that will lead to the abolition of the institution.

“Things are pretty volatile and can be stoked - all it would take is a few acts” to force cancellation of the polls, he said. Diplomats close to the process have consistently warned that the political peace is fragile with all sides ready to resort to violence. King Gyanendra, 60, was vaulted to the throne in 2001 after the massacre of his popular brother Birendra and most of the rest of the royal family by a drink-and-drug fuelled crown prince.

Conspiracy theories linking Gyanendra and his unpopular son Prince Paras to the massacre have made the king “the most unpopular man in Nepal,” said Dixit. At the same time “the people make a distinction between a vote for the person of the monarch and the institution of monarchy,” Kunda said. “The latest polls have shown about half the population would prefer to keep some kind of symbolic monarchy,” he said.

Major General Simha said many people in the Hindu nation continue to revere the king as an incarnation of the god Vishnu, and consider the monarchy to be important for the small country. “Hindu feeling in Nepal is very strong. It’s like a volcano that could erupt at any moment,” said Simha. Kamal Thapa, who was home minister during the king’s direct rule, also predicted turmoil.

“There’s so much social diversity in Nepal and the monarchy has always been a binding force for national unity. So if the monarchy is abolished, the country will disintegrate,” he said. afp

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