Prasai’s protest, UML demo see no major incidentsAuthorities estimate pro-monarchy demonstration was smaller than expected. UML wings gather at Tinkune.
Thousands of people descended on Kathmandu on Thursday in a major show of force between two rival groups—the supporters of the controversial businessman Durga Prasai and sister organisations of the CPN-UML stewarded by lawmaker Mahesh Basnet.
This was the first major demonstration in Kathmandu demanding the reinstatement of monarchy and Hindu state after Nepal became a secular republic in 2008.
Fearing clashes between the two sides, the local administrations in Kathmandu and Lalitpur had declared no-go areas around Maitighar, Singha Durbar and New Baneshwar, where Parliament sits.
UML’s youth wing Rastriya Yuva Sangh and its student wing All Nepal National Free Students’ Union (ANNFSU) jointly held a demonstration at Tinkune, purportedly against the government’s failure to curb anarchy, corruption, and rising inflation.
But all eyes were on the protest led by medical entrepreneur Prasai, who wants to restore monarchy and the Hindu state by removing the present federal, republican and secular system.
The demonstration called by UML’s sister organisations was largely peaceful while Prasai’s protest turned violent, but was restrained by security forces.
Security agencies estimated that around 9,000 people participated in the protest called by Prasai that was largely backed by pro-Hindu and pro-monarchy outfits including the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, the fifth largest in Parliament. Lawmaker Gyan Bahadur Shahi also joined the demonstration.
Similarly, around 7,000 supporters assembled in UML’s demonstration, according to a senior home ministry official.
Nepal Police said both the demonstrations were largely peaceful. But Prasai’s supporters attacked Yuba Sangh workers in Balkhu in the morning, causing minor injuries to two workers.
Addressing the mass later in the afternoon, Prasai urged his supporters to breach the security cordon and march towards Maitighar.
After the protesters started marching towards Kuleshwar from Balkhu, police deployed water cannons and tear gas to disperse the crowd.
“The police handled the protest carefully, so nothing untoward happened. They used minimal force to control the protesters in Balkhu,” said Superintendent Dinesh Raj Mainali of the Metropolitan Police Range, Kathmandu. “The protesters had hurled stones and bricks at the police in their attempt to break the security ring.”
Of late, political rivalry has been growing between UML leader Basnet and Prasai, prompting the government on Thursday to deploy around 10,000 security personnel from the Nepal Police, Armed Police Force and sleuths in order to prevent potential clashes between the two groups.
“We also had a Nepal Army contingent as backup,” said a senior police officer. “We were monitoring the demonstrations through drones. Police fired 146 tear gas shells and five rubber bullets to disperse Prasai’s supporters in Balkhu.”
The police claimed that six protesters, two police personnel and eight other people were injured on Thursday. But during a press conference on Thursday evening, Prasai claimed that as many as 26 protesters were injured and the condition of one is serious.
“Based on his publicity and propaganda, we initially estimated that Prasai may bring around 40,000 people, but there were hardly 10,000,” a home ministry official told the Post.
But one of the protest organisers from Prasai’s group claimed to the Post that over 30,000 people participated in Thursday’s demonstrations and more would join in the coming days.
“We are encouraged by the public participation,” the leader said. “Now more people are planning to join in our protest from Friday [in Tinkune].”
Both UML and Prasai had bussed their supporters from outside the Kathmandu Valley.
Addressing the rally at Balkhu, Prasai, the self-proclaimed maverick who has of late maintained an anti-republic and anti-corruption stance, said that Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has failed to rule the country and asked him to surrender to the people.
“I am ready to die here, I am not going anywhere,” Prasai said. “The country is on the path to bankruptcy. I know the current prime minister inside out. I have worked with you for the past 20 years, and I urge you to surrender to the people. You have failed to govern the country, so hand over the reins to the people.”
Prasai also claimed that his campaign will not stop until monarchy, Hindu state and the 1990 constitution are restored.
At the press conference at his residence on Thursday evening, Prasai said his group will continue protests in all 77 districts, and they will defy the prohibitory order in Kathmandu. The government, earlier this week, declared the Maitighar-Baneshwar road section a prohibited zone for protests.
“Our protest will be like that of Sri Lanka. We will defy the prohibitory order and will march to the restricted area. In Sri Lanka, leaders were beaten up by protesters leading to a regime change; we will follow the same path here. From tomorrow, the number of protesters will double,” said Prasai.
He also claimed that UML chief KP Oli will not become prime minister again. “Mark my words, there is no room for the UML and Oli in Nepali politics,” said Prasai.
Due to police intervention in the demonstration, Prasai could make only a brief address. “From Thursday, we will move to the Tinkune [Koteshwar] area,” said Prasai.
Meanwhile, the demonstration, purportedly against the government’s wrongdoings, organised by UML sister organisations at Tinkune in Koteshwar was largely peaceful. Yuva Sangh chief Basnet addressing his supporters said the government has failed to control corruption and inflation.
Monarchy cannot be the alternative to democracy, said Basnet.
“Some elements are now attempting to bring back monarchy, but that is unacceptable to the UML,” he said while clarifying that their demonstration was not against Prasai.
He also said the Dahal government’s days are numbered as it has failed to deliver and added to public frustration.