A Year of Troubles

2 minute read
Alex Perry

It’s been almost a year since Nepal’s King Gyanendra seized power, arresting hundreds of opposition figures and ending the country’s 14-year experiment with democracy. There’s every sign now that the King plans to continue in this autocratic vein. In an attempt to head off pro-democracy protests, police detained more than 100 politicians and activists in predawn raids last Thursday, while the government cut phone lines and ordered the army to enforce a daytime curfew in the capital. But tens of thousands of protesters defied the crackdown on Saturday, shouting “Gyanendra leave Nepal” and fighting pitched battles with riot police before being dispersed with tear gas. Hundreds of demonstrators, including several political leaders, were arrested.

Upon taking over on Feb. 1, 2005, the King said he was assuming power to crush Nepal’s Maoist rebellion, which has claimed 12,000 lives. Instead, his repressive policies over the past year have helped unite the Maoists with the mainstream opposition: the rebels declared a unilateral cease-fire last September and forged a loose alliance with Nepal’s seven main political parties. The Maoists ended their cease-fire on Jan. 2; since then they have killed at least 25 government troops and police. The King’s hard-line approach has international observers worried about his ability to maintain power in the face of increasing chaos. “Continued violence and a persistent split between the King and the parties will only prepare the ground for Kathmandu’s ultimate takeover by the Maoists,” warns one Western official in Nepal.

The coming weeks promise deepening instability. The political parties have called for a nationwide strike on Jan. 26, and along with the rebels have vowed to disrupt the King’s plans for local elections on Feb. 8. And the 10th anniversary of the Maoist insurrection falls on Feb. 13a day marked by violence in the past. This year, King Gyanendra could discover that even absolute power has limits.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com