The story in Nepal

Barry Stoller bstoller at utopia2000.org
Fri Jun 1 21:40:50 MDT 2001


Reuters; Associated Press; USA Today; New York Times. 1 & 2 June 2001.
Various reports and background material.


KATHMANDU — In a wholesale killing of royalty not seen since the deaths
of the last czar of Russia and his family in 1918, the king and queen of
Nepal and several relatives were reported shot to death in their palace
in Katmandu over dinner last night.

The Associated Press said Crown Prince Dipendra, a 30-year-old graduate
of Eton College in England, opened fire, killing his parents, King
Birendra Bir Birkram Shah Dev, 55; Queen Aiswarya, 51; a brother,
Nirajan, 23; and a sister, Shruti, 25, before shooting himself. Shruti
was married and had two children.

Nepal News, the regional paper, quoted the interior minister, Ram
Chandra Poudel, as saying that while he could not confirm details of the
massacre, he regarded the attack as "a national disaster." Later today,
Nepal time, Mr. Poudel was reported by Reuters as putting the death toll
at 11.

The British Broadcasting Corporation reported from Katmandu that the
crown prince had quarreled with his mother over his choice of a bride.
Queen Aiswarya had long been associated in the minds of Nepali democrats
with a rigid, outdated penchant for absolute monarchy and social
conservatism. Dipendra had made efforts to appear more open to the
Nepali people as the role of his father became more symbolic.

Nepal is tormented by multiple crises, and over the coming days any
number of explanations for the tragedy may emerge.

There is only speculation that some royal family members or servants may
have survived to tell their stories. Among the survivors, reports from
Katmandu said, was another royal prince, Dhirendra, who was critically
wounded. A third prince, Gyanendra, who is the king's brother, was out
of the capital, visiting a national park at Chitwan, officials in
Katmandu said.

The minister, who is also deputy prime minister, said there would be a
meeting later of the state council, a constitutional body, to decide who
would succeed the king.

The Nepalnews.com Web site said a helicopter sent to pick up the king's
brother, Prince Gyanendra, to Kathmadu from outside the capital but had
to return to the capital due to bad weather.

Prince Gyanendra would appear to be next in line for the crown. Nepal,
which has been racked by a Maoist insurgency in recent years, is a
constitutional monarchy.

Katmandu, the capital of 1.5 million, woke up Saturday to news of the
shootings.

Hundreds of people began walking toward the royal palace in the heart of
the city. Police in riot gear surrounded the perimeters of the iron
walls that surround the modern, concrete palace, pushing back the
crowds. The main street leading to the palace was closed as people began
to gather.

"Shocking is an understatement, we have been orphaned by this loss,"
said Janardan Sharma, a vegetable vendor who left his morning rounds to
rush to the palace. "This is unbelievable ... one day you hear that the
crown prince is getting married soon and the next day he goes on to a
shooting rampage and kills everyone in the family," said Shreeram
Shrestha.

Birendra was crowned king in 1972 to replace his late father, King
Mahendra. He was the latest monarch in the Shah dynasty, which has held
the throne since the mid-1700s.

King Birendra held nearly absolute power until 1990, when seven weeks of
demonstrations and riots forced him to give into demands from democracy
activists. A parliamentary government was established and the king has
since remained a figurehead much like the queen of England, appearing in
ceremonies and addressing the Parliament once a year.

The turning point in the resistance of the Harvard-education king came
on April 6, 1990, when police fired at 200,000 demonstrators marching
toward the royal palace. Officials said at least 72 people died, but
witnesses put the death toll at more than 300.

Friday's shootings come at a time of major political instability in
Nepal.

Recently, as democratically elected governments of left and right run by
a few upper-caste families have stumbled, a powerful leftist movement,
usually described as Maoist but not thought to be backed by China, has
been on the march in the countryside.

The rebels are gradually encircling Katmandu.

Regions as far away as the approach to Mount Everest have begun to be
affected by the rebellion. The army of Nepal, home to the much- feared
Gurkha warriors, has been increasingly critical of the political
leadership, saying it was not acting decisively enough to put down the
insurrection. At the same time, international human rights groups were
criticizing the government for being too tough.

Nepal is located in South Asia along the slopes of the Himalayan
mountains and is home to eight of the world's 14 peaks above 26,400
feet, the tallest being Mount Everest.

It is bordered on the north by China and on the east, south and west by
India. It is the size and shape of the state of Tennessee.

Cut off from the world until it opened its borders in 1950, Nepal has
never quite caught up with other countries.

Thousands of trekkers and mountain climbers come every year to marvel at
its soaring peaks, its quaint stone and wood villages, its forests of
pine and rhododendron. "Pristine poverty," cynics call it.

Nothing - tourism, economic liberalization, elected governments,
hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid - has been able to lift
this country from medieval penury. Ninety percent of its people still
scratch out a subsistence from the rocky, mountainous countryside.

Nepal has only 8,000 miles of roads. In most of the country, supplies
are carried in wicker baskets on the backs of men and women over steep,
narrow footpaths.

Barely any of Nepal has electricity. Drinking water is scarce and fewer
than one Nepali in five has a toilet.

The 1990 uprising that forced King Birendra to relinquish absolute power
raised public expectations of a quick end to their feudalistic
existence.

But except for raucous politics and an unshackled press, not much has
changed. Fewer than one adult in three knows how to read. The United
Nations Children's Fund says two-thirds of children are stunted by
malnutrition. [Human trafficking is rampant, although saying as much
might make one appreciate the militancy of the Maoists...]

Nepal's per capita income of just a couple hundred dollars a year is
among the lowest in the world.

Recently, the added scourge of AIDS has appeared.

For many Nepalis, democracy has delivered nothing, and they have been
willing conscripts to the Maoist revolutionary cause.


...........................

Barry Stoller

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