The 17-day-long standoff between Nepal's king and the street protestors demanding an end to his control over the government took a sharp turn for the worse today, after Nepal's political parties rejected the King's offer for peace and the police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse thousands of protestors.
Hopes had been raised on Friday that the conflict might be at an end after the King went on TV to offer to hand over power to a prime minister chosen by the seven parties that have been spearheading the protests against him. However, the parties today rejected the King's offer, saying that it did not meet their basic demands, which include holding elections for a special parliament to write a new constitution for Nepal that would turn the King into a ceremonial figure.
At the same time, thousands of people defied curfew orders and marched through the streets of Kathmandu in the direction of the palace. Many of them said they had been incensed by the tone of the King's speech yesterday, which they called arrogant. "We don't want a constitutional king or a ceremonial king. We want him to leave the country; we want a republic," said Suwas Bhetwal, 24. Ahead of him, protestors were carrying a stuffed white shroud sprinkled with red drops. "That's the king's body," one of them shouted. "His dead body."
The protestors were in a more confrontational mood today. So were the authorities. Nepali police reacted brutally to such demonstrations, firing tear gas and rubber bullets in many places. While the numbers of casualties are hard to know at this stage, it is clear that many were wounded. Cell phones were jammed throughout the city to cut off communications. A long spell of rain in the afternoon helped the authorities by stopping the protests for a while, although large plumes of smoke continued to curl up into the Kathmandu skyline as protestors kept their fires burning. Then the rain ended, and the protestors came out again. This time the police seemed to have lost their patience.
Just outside the posh Hyatt hotel, Achyut Adhikari, a student, was gathered with a few hundred others after the rains in defiance of the curfew: when word spread that the police were firing rubber bullets and that they have been firing at crowds throughout the city Adhikari and the others turned and ran, tearing through bushes and gardens, jumping over walls, to make it to safety. "Of course I'll be back tomorrow," Adhikari said, at the end of it all, panting for breath. "What else is there to do? We'll keep coming until the King gives in to the people." A shout went out that the police were coming around through a back alley. Adhikari and his friends got ready to run again.