Make a deal or risk your throne, Nepal's king warned

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Western ambassadors have warned the King of Nepal that if he does not bow to massive protest rallies being held across the country and restore democracy, he risks losing his throne.

Three more protestors died yesterday as a general strike called by the opposition entered its fourteenth day. Opposition parties are planning to bring hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets of Kathmandu today in the biggest demonstration yet.

The US ambassador to Nepal, James Moriarty, was summoned to the palace yesterday after he said publicly in an interview that if King Gyanendra does not back down, he may end up having to flee his country clinging to a helicopter.

But he was only saying in public what a string of leading ambassadors are believed to have told the king in private: that he must make a deal with the opposition parties if he is to hold on to his throne.

In a sign King Gyanendra may want to strike some sort of deal with the opposition to end the protests, he yesterday released the two highest-profile political prisoners in Nepal, senior figures from the two biggest opposition parties: Madhav Kumar Nepal of the Communist Party (UML) and Ram Chandra Poudel of the Nepali Congress Party.

But the party leaders say they will not make any deal in return for token measures from the King and are insisting that he restores democracy. In an effort to stop the massive rally planned for today in Kathmandu, the royal government last night announced a curfew.

As the crisis deepend, Nepal's giant neighbour India sent a special envoy to Kathmandu yesterday for urgent talks with King Gyanendra. He is expected to tell the King starkly that Delhi will not continue to back him if he does not make some sort of deal and continues to try to suppress the protests by force. Almost all of Nepal's trade depends on the border with India.

Two protestors were killed yesterday when police opened fire on a rally in the eastern town of Chandragadi. A woman injured by a tear gas shell during protests in the southern town of Nepalganj on Tuesday also succumbed to her injuries. Their deaths brought the number of protestors killed to eight.

The opposition that called the general strike and daily protest rallies is calling for the King to give up the absolute powers he seized last year and restore democracy.But increasingly the thousands who take part in the rallies have been calling for the monarchy to be abolished altogether and replaced with a republic.

Gyanendra ended democracy in Nepal when he sacked the entire government and seized back the absolute powers of a mediaeval King. At the time he said it was necessary to defeat the Maoists guerrillas who control large parts of the country and have fought a ten-year civil war.

But today the seven-party opposition alliance against him is in an uneasy alliance with the Maoists, who have publicly backed the strike and protests. The parties and the Maoists have agreed a basic framework for peace talks.

"India is seriously worried with the worsening situation in Nepal," India's special enovoy, Karan Singh, said as he arrived in Kathmandu yesterday. "People in Nepal are also suffering a lot. Violence and anarchy is continuously increasing."