5 June 2001
The Times of India
KING GYANENDRA SETS UP PANEL TO PROBE KILLINGS
By SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN
Times of India News Service
KATHMANDU: Curfew was imposed here Monday afternoon following pitched battles between policemen and protesters, upset over the coronation of Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah as king and angry at the government's failure to explain how the late king, Birendra, was killed.
On his part, King Gyanendra moved swiftly to end speculation about the palace massacre, promising the nation on television Monday night a full investigation into the tragic incident.
In a move that is being seen here as a stroke of genius, he said a commissionconsisting of Supreme Court chief justice Keshav Prasad Upadhyaya, Communist opposition leader Madhav Kumar Nepal and the speaker of parliament, would investigate the incident and provide a report within three days.
Gyanendra was crowned king hours after the death early Monday morning of Nepal's comatose king, Deependra. Though Gyanendra was driven through Kathmandu in an impressive ceremonial procession, the pomp and pageantry failed to impress those who were on the streets. Hardly anybody clapped or cheered, and the police formed roadblocks to keep people from getting close. There could hardly have been a more inauspicious start to the new king's reign.
Barely minutes after Gyanendra entered the palace, youths in small and large groups began shouting slogans against him. On Sunday, people had chanted "Hang the murderer" without specifying who they meant; on Monday, that coyness had vanished: "Hatyara Gyanendra chahide na" (We don't want the murderer Gyanendra), the protesters shouted. By 1:30 pm, their mood had turned ugly. On Durbar Marg, barely 500 metres from the palace, youths numbering several hundred threw stones at the police, who retaliated with tear gas. Clashes took place throughout the city, leading to the imposition of curfew at 4:00 pm. The curfew - which will remain till 5 am Tuesday - emptied the city centre completely but sporadic shots could be heard till eight in the evening.
The demonstrators are almost all between the ages of 15 and 25, and though some are lumpen, many are relatively affluent. They insist Deependra could not have killed his parents and that Gyanendra conspired with his son, Paras, to clear the way for himself. "Gyanendra is the king of bullets", shouted one emotional young man. "No one will ever accept him."
The enfant terrible of the royal family, Paras - who is now next in line for the throne - is highly unpopular. He is said to have killed people with his rash driving and bouts of random shooting. Nepalese, therefore, are prepared to believe the worst about him, especially since he was not injured in the palace shoot-out. While this correspondent encountered no one who blamed India for Birendra's death, there are reports that posters have been printed attacking Gyanendra, Paras - and India - for Friday's carnage.
The decision to crown Gyanendra king was taken by the privy council, which met soon after Deependra's death. Anticipating large-scale violence, the authorities postponed his cremation, initially scheduled for 3 pm. The fact that Deependra was cremated while curfew was in place - without giving people a chance to pay their last respects - is bound to be held against Gyanendra and Prime Minister G P Koirala.
Though the investigation promised by the king is likely to be a credible one given the composition of its members, it is difficult to see how any inquiry which suggests Deependra opened fire will be acceptable to people. Several survivors of the palace massacre are believed to have confirmed Deependra shot them but this is a terrible truth many Nepalese will probably not be able to come to terms with for a long time.
"Today is the most crucial day in Gyanendra's reign", an observer here told The Times of India shortly after his coronation. "If the day passes uneventfully, he will pull through. Otherwise, there will be a question mark." The imposition of curfew Monday was not a good omen, but Gyanendra's statesmanlike TV address might just help to swing the pendulum in his favour.