KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) — King Gyanendra dismissed Nepal’s government yesterday and declared a state of emergency, closing off his Himalayan nation from the rest of the world as telephone and Internet lines were cut, flights diverted and civil liberties severely curtailed.
Britain and India both expressed concern, saying the king’s actions undermined democracy.
This was the second time in three years the king has taken control of the tiny South Asian constitutional monarchy, a throwback to the era of absolute power enjoyed by monarchs before King Birendra, Gyanendra’s elder brother, introduced democracy in 1990.
King Gyanendra denied his takeover was a coup, although soldiers surrounded the houses of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and other government leaders.
The king also suspended several provisions of the constitution, including freedom of the press, speech and expression, peaceful assembly, the right to privacy and the right against preventive detention, according to a statement from the Narayanhiti Palace.
“We will oppose this step,” Deuba, who was not allowed to leave his home, told reporters. “The move directly violates the constitution and is against democracy.”
Nepali Congress, the country’s largest party, said the king had “pushed the country toward further complications” and called for a demonstration.
India, Nepal’s southern neighbor and close ally, also criticized the king.
“These developments constitute a serious setback to the cause of democracy in Nepal and cannot but be a cause of grave concern to India,” India’s foreign ministry said. “The safety and welfare of the political leaders must be ensured, and political parties must be allowed to exercise all the rights enjoyed by them under the constitution.”
India said the king had violated Nepal’s constitution, which enshrines a multiparty democracy alongside a constitutional monarchy.
Britain expressed similar concerns.
“This action will increase the risk of instability in Nepal, undermining the institutions of democracy and constitutional monarchy in the country. We call for the immediate restitution of multiparty democracy and appeal for calm and restraint on all sides during this difficult time,” said Foreign Office Minister Douglas Alexander.
Armored vehicles with mounted machine guns patrolled the streets of Katmandu, Nepal’s capital, and phone lines in the city had been cut. Many flights into the city were canceled, although the airport remained open.
Long lines quickly formed at grocery stores and gas stations, as worried residents stocked up on supplies.
“We are so confused. We don’t know what is going on or what will happen,” said Narayan Thapa, a government worker. “I am worried I can’t reach my family on the phone.”
In an announcement on state-run television, the king accused the government of failing to conduct parliamentary elections and to restore peace in the country beset by rebel violence.
“A new Cabinet will be formed under my leadership,” he said. “This will restore peace and effective democracy in this country within the next three years.”
Later, state-run television reported a state of emergency had been declared.
“This is not the first time that the king has tried to impose himself by force, depriving the Nepalese people of their freedom of expression,” international media freedom group Reporters Sans Frontieres said. “The international community has failed to respond to a deteriorating human rights situation in the country. It is now urgent that the U.N. reacts firmly.”
The monarch, who commands the 78,000-member army, said security forces would be given more power to maintain law and order. But he insisted human rights would be respected.
The king fired Deuba as prime minister in 2002, sparking mass protests demanding the restoration of a democratically elected government. He reinstated Deuba last year with the task of holding elections by next month and conducting peace talks with Maoist rebels.
Nepal has been in turmoil since Gyanendra, 55, suddenly assumed the crown in 2001 after his brother, Birendra, was gunned down in a palace massacre apparently committed by Birendra’s son, the crown prince, who also died. In all, 10 members of the royal family were killed.
Riots shook Katmandu after the killings. Soon after, fighting intensified between government forces and the rebels, who control large parts of Nepal’s countryside.
The rebels have been trying since 1996 to overthrow the government and establish a socialist state. More than 10,500 people have died since the fighting began.