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Last Updated: Friday, 7 April 2006, 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK
Struggle and strife for Nepalis
By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Kathmandu

Troops on the streets of Kathmandu
Troops patrolling the streets have become a regular sight
Strikes, protests, clashes and arrests have become a daily part of life for Nepalis since King Gyanendra assumed direct rule a year ago. But what is day-to-day living like for those caught in the middle?

The four-day shutdown or bandh in Nepal, ordered by seven political parties, is by no means universally popular with the public.

But that will be of little comfort to King Gyanendra, who finds himself more isolated than ever before.

Armoured vehicles in the streets, tear gas and truncheons, burning tyres and pelted bricks - most are now familiar to the people of Kathmandu, but tensions are perhaps on a higher plane.

Pro-democracy demonstrators have no intention of obeying a ban on public gatherings - gatherings they hope will bolster their shutdown and put the squeeze on the palace to retreat from absolute rule.

Still, the protest tactics do not impress everyone. Many are alienated by them.

Undeveloped nation

Reenu Maharjan and her mother sit calmly in their house in Patan in the Kathmandu Valley, as tear gas canisters whizz by outside, met with a clatter of lobbed stones.

Reenu Maharjan (l) and her mother
Reenu says the constant strikes are not achieving anything

Street clashes just metres from where they eat and sleep have become a way of life.

"These bandhs feel the same, whether they're called by the parties or the Maoists," says 25-year-old Reenu. "They close everything."

Reenu says that at these times, party cadres scare people, for instance, by ordering them off the roads or by burning vehicles. She heard that someone in a car was beaten up the previous day.

And the bandhs play havoc with people's work.

The adhesives made in the factory where Reenu works do not get sold, so everyone is paid late.

She says her sister is more unlucky.

With motor transport forbidden, she walks 45 minutes to work in her bank, which as a state institution stays open. If she stays away, she is accused of political activism.

Reenu says the constant shutdowns are driving people to leave the country.

"At this rate, the nation won't develop," she says.

At least Reenu is still paid on bandh days.

(Politics) doesn't matter. Nepalis are killing Nepalis with these bandhs. Even big business is hampered
Gyan Bahadur Basnet, porter

Across the Bagmati river, day labourers waiting in the street know they will get nothing.

Gyan Bahadur Basnet and Chandra Bahadur Khadka both come from Dolakha, in the eastern hills.

They stay in Kathmandu for the portering work, which can earn them 200 rupees ($3) on a good day.

"Bandh days are very simple. We sit, eat, do nothing," says Gyan. "People can't work, travel, do what they need to do," says Chandra.

In fact, food is not always guaranteed.

Gyan says that if he has saved some cash or can borrow, he will eat, but otherwise he may stay hungry.

As for his politics, he says "it doesn't matter. Nepalis are killing Nepalis with these bandhs. Even big business is hampered."

Gyan Bahadur Basnet (l) and Chandra Bahadur Khadka
For porters like Gyan and Chandra, the strikes can lead to no pay and no food

A driver at the city's main bus stand is equally disconsolate. Usually he drives to the central town of Pokhara, six hours away. But during the strike, he dare not take to the road.

"The Maoists are out there on the highway," he says. "I wouldn't feel safe."

Even though this strike has been called by the parties, he believes the rebels will enforce it.

Some support

Cycle rickshaw driver in Kathmandu
A ban on motor cars means cycle rickshaw drivers can do well

For radical young students at the Shankar Dev campus near the city centre, the outlook is very different.

"We support the four-day strike unconditionally," says one young man. "We'll ensure it becomes a huge success."

He and his fellows are fired with the spirit of protest because, he says, some of them were beaten up by "the henchmen of the autocratic regime".

He accuses the police of beating non-demonstrating passers-by, too.

Some do go to the office during bandhs, especially government workers like Arjun Bahadur Khadka, striding resolutely to the water department.

"There's no point in staying at home," he says. "Am I scared of stones? No. If there are riots we just avoid them."

He says there is little difference between party shutdowns and Maoist ones, but feels that "honest people" have nothing to fear during either.

Even Japan, a key aid donor which usually remains silent on all diplomatic matters, has issued a statement of concern

He does feel, however, that current events are nothing like the 'People's Revolution' of April 1990, in which over 100,000 took to the streets and the late King Birendra bowed to their wishes and became a constitutional monarch.

He feels that this is a "politicians' movement, not a people's movement".

There are, however, few consolations for the King.

A rare new nationwide opinion poll blames both him and the Maoists virtually equally - over 32% each - for Nepal's problems. Just under 27% blame the parties.

International concern

Police in Kathmandu
Both the police and rebels are blamed by people for the chaos

The United States - a strong ally and traditional military backer of the kingdom - has been outspoken in its criticisms of the monarch.

In a BBC interview this week, James Moriarty, US ambassador to Nepal, said the past 14 months of royal rule had "obviously... been a failure".

If the king did not reconcile with the parties, he said, the situation would "continue to deteriorate".

Since his takeover of power, "what you have seen... is a Maoist movement that has made tremendous progress... frankly, they're winning," said he says, admitting his country deeply fears a Maoist takeover of Nepal.

Even Japan, a key aid donor which usually remains silent on all diplomatic matters, has issued a statement of concern, requesting that "no more arrests be made and those arrested be released as promptly as possible".

Nevertheless, Reenu Maharjan in Patan believes Gyanendra will be unmoved by the four-day strike.

"He's never necessarily been liked," she says.

"Although he seems isolated, I think he's happy with that."



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