Nepali King frees communist party leaders in attempt to appease critics

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The Independent Online

Nepali political leaders jailed in February's royal coup were freed yesterday, and mobile phone services restored as King Gyanendra continued his attempts to convince the world of a return to normality.

Nepali political leaders jailed in February's royal coup were freed yesterday, and mobile phone services restored as King Gyanendra continued his attempts to convince the world of a return to normality.

The moves came two days after King Gyanendra lifted the state of emergency imposed when he dismissed the government and seized back the powers of an absolute monarch.

As emergency measures are relaxed, mobile phones are working again in Kathmandu for the first time in three months. After seizing power, the King cut all telephone lines. Landlines and internet connections were restored relatively quickly, but mobile phones are only just being reactivated.

In an intended sign that the regime was relaxing its grip, Madhav Kumar Nepal, the leader of Nepal's largest Communist party, was released from jail, with Amrit Bohara, another Communist leader.

The liberalisation is part of a concerted effort by the King to convince the world he is pulling back from the authoritarian measures imposed in February, and will keep his promise to restore democracy. But critics say the moves are cosmetic.

Although the state of emergency has been lifted, the King appears to have retained wide-ranging powers, and basic human rights, including freedom of speech, freedom of thought and a free press, remain indefinitely "suspended".

The Communist leaders who were released are the last of the major party leaders to be freed. But 175 other activists remain in jail.

Madhav Nepal's United Marxist-Leninist Party was a member of the coalition that was dismissed by the King. Sher Bahadur Deuba, the Prime Minister, who was dismissed, was released before Mr Nepal, but has since been re-arrested after refusing to testify before an anti-corruption board. Most observers agree the board is a thinly disguised attempt by the King to discredit his political opponents.

King Gyanendra has come under pressure from foreign backers to re-democratise the country. The United States and Britain recalled their ambassadors, while Britain and India have suspended military aid.

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