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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 January, 2005, 11:50 GMT
Fears and hope in Nepal for 2005

By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Kathmandu

Maoists in western Nepal
A key date in 13 January - a deadline for Maoists to enter talks
On a typical evening Kathmandu's commercial hub, New Road, and the surrounding alleyways are abuzz with shoppers seeking out mobile phones, DVDs, televisions and all the must-haves of an affluent society.

By the official Nepali calendar, the new year does not begin until mid-April.

But traders such as Vishal Khetan were selling a steady flow of New Year 2005 cards in his card shop towards the end of December.

That trade was thanks to an elite, Westernised young clientele.

Nepal's civil war barely affects trade, he says.

"These people get money from their parents and they don't really have to worry about the next 12 months."

I think the government will be sacked - it happens every six months
Anugraha Gurung, doctor

Vishal himself does feel the pinch, however, because whenever the Maoist rebels order general shutdowns, he has to close - sometimes for five days in a month.

That makes it difficult to pay the rent, he says. He can't see anything changing in the next year.

A young doctor out with a friend, Anugraha Gurung, has only one hope for 2005. Peace.

"Nowadays, you never know where the next bomb is going to blast," she says. "It's true there are usually warnings and the Maoists don't target big public places, but people have that fear."

Harsh words

Some of Anugraha's country-dwelling relatives have fled to Kathmandu.

Anti-king protest in Kathmandu
The king's executive powers sparked protests during 2004

"Next year they want to go back to the villages - currently they're all crammed into one relative's house," she says.

But she's not sure there will be the political stability to bring peace.

"I think the government will be sacked - it happens every six months," Anugraha says.

Her visiting friend is now settled in the US, an option Anugraha and her husband don't rule out.

Yubraj Ghimire, editor of Samay magazine, agrees that Nepal's overwhelming problem is violence.

The government has given the Maoists a 13 January deadline to come to peace talks, failing which it says it will prepare for elections.

What kind of generation will we have to lead our country?
Yubraj Ghimire,
magazine editor

But Mr Ghimire has harsh words for all the powerful of Nepal.

"There are a record number of human rights violations now and Nepal is a failing state," he says. "The government must restore peace and regain its lost credibility.

"The Maoists are conscripting children and depriving people of basic health care. They must abandon the dream of capturing power with guns.

"The king must abandon his idea of using the army to capture power. And the politicians, instead of trying to grab power for six months, must look further ahead."

Mr Ghimire says 2005 could be a turning point if such people overcome what he calls their "apathy towards the future".

But he worries for the future a decade hence. Maoist violence has closed more than 700 schools, he says.

"What kind of generation will we have to lead our country?"

Bangkok Agreement

Some feel there is room for optimism. Rajendra Suwal runs nepalnature.com, which promotes environmentally sensitive tourism.

He notes that the Maoists now run two of Nepal's national reserves and that reports suggest they have "some respect" for wildlife conservation.

He also feels that foreign tourists' increasing encounters with Maoists, especially on popular trekking routes, are a good thing that he hopes will continue in 2005.

Maoist-led strike in Kathmandu
Maoist-led strikes have hit businesses in Kathmandu

"It exposes indoctrinated Maoists to the world, it means they have to say what they want, other than [resort to] bloodshed."

And although the conflict deters some tourists, "people with a pulse for Nepal will keep coming", he says.

"Once they phone Kathmandu they know it's safe for them."

Economist Ratnakar Adhikari also feels relatively optimistic about 2005.

Nepal is to join the Bangkok Agreement, a free-trade grouping of Asian countries.

Mr Adhikari knows this country suffers from corruption and lacks good roads, customs facilities and warehouses.

The infrastructure will, however, get new funding in 2005 under a trade-related technical assistance arrangement with six international bodies.

This also provides for training officials and strengthening the private sector.

'Worse next year

But in Nepal these days the predominant mood is gloom.

"Things will be as bad, if not worse, next year," believes a prominent businessman, Sanjib Rajbhandari, who deals with IT and communications.

Although some sectors are booming, such as housing in rapidly growing Kathmandu, the war has put a dampener on his customers.

Earlier this year, he recalls, 47 businesses were forcibly closed by the Maoists for up to a month.

He wasn't on the list that time - but as for the future, he says, who knows?

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