Nepal: Can the monarchy cling on through this crisis?

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The Independent Online

What do the protesters in Nepal want?

Originally the protests called for the restoration of democracy and for King Gyanendra to revert to being a constitutional monarch. But most protesters have started to call for the monarchy to be abolished.

Who is behind the protests?

They were first organised by the seven-party alliance, a group of democratic opposition parties. But as they have grown, they have become a mass popular movement, and many of the protesters do not support the parties.

Where do the Maoists fit in?

The Maoist guerrillas, who have fought a 10-year civil war with the government, are in an open - if uneasy - alliance with the opposition. They have supported the protests. Claims by the government that they are infiltrating the protests to stage violent attacks have been rubbished by independent observers. The Maoists have signed up to a framework for peace talks with the seven opposition parties, but even the party leaders who negotiated with them say they are not sure if the Maoists can be trusted.

If Gyanendra has offered elections, why are the opposition parties saying the protests will continue?

Gyanendra is offering elections with his own place secure as a constitutional monarch. The parties now say they want a new "constituent assembly" to be elected to review the constitution and debate whether Nepal should have a monarchy at all.

What is Britain doing?

Britain is heavily involved in Nepal because of its colonial history in neighbouring India. Gurkhas are still recruited from Nepal for the British Army. Until he seized power last year, Britain was supporting Gyanendra and arming Nepalese security forces against the Maoists. But since the his onslaught on democracy, Britain has distanced itself from him and the British ambassador said this week that unless the King backed down, it could mean the end of the monarchy in Nepal.

What are Nepal's neighbours doing?

India is extremely concerned about the crisis in neighbouring Nepal, not least because it faces its own Maoist guerrillas. Like Britain, India used to support Gyanendra but has distanced itself since he dismantled democracy. This week it sent a special envoy with a stark message that he must back down or face losing the throne. India has been heavily involved in behind-the-scenes talks with opposition parties on how to solve the crisis.

China has studiously refused to get involved, despite overtures from Gyanendra for it to fill the void when Britain, India and the United States suspended arms supplies. There is no love lost between China and Nepal's Maoists, who regard modern China as having betrayed Mao Tse Tung's vision.

Can the King survive as monarch?

As an absolute monarch - no. Whether he can survive as a constitutional monarch remains to be seen. Many believe he has realised he cannot suppress the protests by force too late. But so far the protesters have not been able to break through the army and surround the palace.

Justin Huggler

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