Opposition: Nepal Has Become Police State

World - AP Asia

By NEELESH MISRA, Associated Press Writer

KATMANDU, Nepal - Nepal has become a police state under emergency rule and King Gyanendra's forces are hounding political opponents, not the guerrillas they claim to be fighting, opposition leaders said Saturday. The military denies the allegations.

Gyanendra said he took power because he needed the authority to combat Maoist guerrillas who have fought since 1996 to abolish the constitutional monarchy. He also blamed Nepal's problems on corrupt politicians.

Ram Saran Mahat, a top leader of the Nepali Congress, the country's largest party, said he accepted the king's assertion that Nepal's politicians had been squabbling for power and had governance problems, but he insisted a state of emergency was not the answer.

"Anybody can be branded a terrorist now ... in the name of security. Every normal activity is under the control of the security forces � the army and the police," Mahat told The Associated Press. "There were mistakes ... but you have to play the game by the rules. If politicians are bad, they can be thrown out by the people."

Mahat, who worked as a senior cabinet minister under three prime ministers, is the most senior opposition politician working openly in Nepal. Most of the others were arrested or have gone underground since the king seized control of the government on Feb. 1.

Opponents of the king and some human rights groups have said human rights violations have increased and the army is making most decisions for the country. The military denies this, saying the army was functioning under the civilian council of ministers and had no more power than before the king sacked the government and declared a state of emergency.

"They are wrong. We have a council of ministers. We are under its control. The military's mandate hasn't changed, it remains the same as before," said Brig. Gen. Dipak Gurung, the chief spokesman of the Royal Nepalese Army.

The council of ministers was named by the king after he declared the state of emergency, and is composed of some of his staunchest supporters.

Opposition leaders, students, human rights activists, journalists and trade unionists have been detained.

"There is no place for peaceful differences. For people like us who worked for democracy and who believe in democracy, this is a ... shocking and surprising time," said Khadga Prasad Oli, a top communist leader and one-time home minister who was under house arrest until days ago.

Police built sandbagged pickets around Oli's home, snapped his phone lines and refused to let him leave or allow anyone to visit him for 14 days.

Nepal's political parties have failed to organize major public protests against the king's move. Only eight demonstrators showed up for a planned rally in Katmandu on Friday. They were quickly arrested.

"I know we did not carry out the show of strength expected of us, but we are not able to carry out our movement as we want because of the security situation," said Keshav Singh, president of the Nepal Students Union. Singh is underground, trying to avoid arrest as he marshals students across the country.

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