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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 April 2006, 12:25 GMT 13:25 UK
Nepal protesters' day of defiance

By Sanjoy Majumder
BBC News, Kathmandu

Kathmandu residents and police on the streets
People are on the streets in defiance of a strict curfew
Driving out to Kathmandu's ring road in the morning, we are greeted with empty roads and shuttered shops.

A few people look on from their windows, but the presence of a large security force is proving to be a deterrent.

Armoured personnel carriers have taken up positions at some intersections.

Elsewhere, armed soldiers and riot police line the streets, keeping a close watch on narrow alleys.

'Peaceful protest'

We arrive at Gongabun, a neighbourhood at the northern edge of Kathmandu, which lies on the ring road and right on the curfew zone.

As the BBC team steps out and starts filming, an armed police official rushes forward with his hand raised in warning.

"Stop, it is not permitted. You must go back. We won't allow you to go forward," he says.

Kathmandu residents watch from a rooftop
Curious residents watch from the rooftops

Groups of people gathered on the roofs of the many houses that line the road look and wave at us.

"Come up here," they whisper urgently.

Ram Chandra Shah and his wife greets us warmly.

They tell us that a large crowd of people are gathering at the periphery, waiting to march towards the ring road.

"This is a peaceful protest. All we are asking for is that the people's wishes be listened to," Mr Shah, who is in his 60s, says.

"Their response is to order a curfew and commands to shoot at sight," he says, his face twisting in disgust.

Even as we listen to him, the police official is back, urgently waving at us.

"You must leave immediately," he shouts. "Now."

As we rush down the stairs, we hear him warn the Shahs to "avoid trouble" and not let us back in.

'Gyanendra get out'

Piling into our cars we are hustled off in a convoy with an armed police vehicle escorting us out.

It soon becomes clear why.

Around the corner, several hundred protesters jam a narrow street, inching forward. A line of armed riot police confronts them.

Nepalese protester Uttam Timanisha
We are ready to die, we are not scared
Uttam Timanisha
Protester

A few hundred metres away, police on top of an armoured personnel carrier also keep watch.

We make our way to Chabail, another Kathmandu neighbourhood, when our armed escort peels away.

We can go no further.

Up ahead, thousands of people are marching forward towards the ring road, chanting pro-democracy slogans.

"Gyanendra leave our country. Gyanendra get out," they chant, clapping their hands rhythmically. Onlookers cheer and whistle in approval.

As we snake our way through the throng, it becomes clear that the crowd is growing by the minute. Many of them are young, several of them students.

"We want freedom, we don't want dictatorship," says Binod Bhattarai, 22, as his friends nod their heads.

"We want rule by the people. The king runs our country like it's a puppet show."

These people are out on the streets defying shoot-at-sight orders which appear to have only strengthened their determination.

"We are ready to die, we are not scared," declares Uttam Timanisha, 27.

"The situation is so bad already. It can't get any worse."

Intense mood

Similar protests have erupted across Kathmandu we hear, but there is no way of finding out for ourselves because we have been told the next time we break through curfew lines, we will be arrested.

Protesters in Kathmandu
The mood at times was almost celebratory

Some of those protests have turned violent, we learn, with police opening fire at one place, Kalanki.

The mood in Chabail is a lot less aggressive, but no less intense.

And the crowd is very mixed - women make up almost a third of the crowd, many of them with their little children.

As police look on, they chant and clap in turn and the atmosphere is almost celebratory. At the edge of the crowd, ice-cream sellers do brisk business.

It is Nepal's day out - one of defiance at the intransigence of their monarch.


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