Tens of thousands of protesters marched on the outskirts of the Nepalese capital on Friday, again defying a government-imposed curfew a day after security forces opened fire on demonstrators.
An anti-king protester wounded in Thursday’s violence died, raising the death toll for that day to four and the overall number of demonstrators killed by security forces during two weeks of often violent street protests to 14.
At least three big rallies were reported on Friday on the ring road that circles Kathmandu, and which falls within the curfew zone.
Hundreds of police backed by armoured vehicles and trucks lined the ring road, creating an uneasy standoff.
As the tension grew, an Indian envoy who met King Gyanendra on Thursday said he expected a “major announcement” on Friday that could defuse the situation.
“It is our hope and expectation that perhaps by the end of the day some major announcement will be made,” Karan Singh told reporters on Friday after briefing Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his visit to Nepal.
“We are hoping that there will be some major step toward reinstating democracy,” Singh said. He gave no other details.
Gyanendra, who seized absolute power 14 months ago claiming it was necessary to defeat a long-running Maoist rebellion, has come under intense pressure to move back toward democracy.
The crisis has escalated steadily since a general strike began two weeks ago and protesters hit the streets daily, leaving the Himalayan country paralysed and at its most volatile since the king seized power.
On Friday, an Associated Press photographer saw at least 50 000 protesters on the march from the Gangabu area just north-east of the city. Local news media reported tens of thousands were also demonstrating in the Kirtipur area to the south.
They all were headed toward Kalanki, an area on the city’s western edge where police fired on protesters on Thursday, killing at least three on the spot and wounding dozens more.
About 10 000 protesters were already gathered at Kalanki, where demonstrators had splashed in large red and white letters on the pavement: “Martyrs’ square, long live the martyrs.”
“Long live democracy! The blood of the martyrs will not go to waste,” protesters chanted, waving political opposition-party flags.
Government notices issued early on Friday said the 9am-to-8pm curfew must be observed in Kathmandu, its suburbs of Lalitpur and Bhaktapur, and in the resort town of Pokhara, 200km west of the capital.
The notices warned people to stay indoors during the curfew and said those who violate it will be shot. They said the curfew was imposed “to protect the people, property and peace”.
The protester who died at a hospital on Friday was among 26 people shot at Gulariya, 500km south-west of Kathmandu, during Thursday’s protests. He was the 14th person killed by fire from security forces since opposition parties launched the general strike on April 6.
A defense ministry statement said security forces had to fire on Thursday because the situation was getting out of control.
It said 13 police officers were wounded in clashes with protesters who vandalised government offices and tried but failed to set them on fire.
At the Model hospital, where many of the wounded protesters — including three of those killed — were taken, doctors wore black bands to protest the shootings. “It was terrible,” said Dr Sarita Pandey. He said 66 wounded people, eight in critical condition, were brought in on Thursday.
He said the injured included a 10-year-old boy with a gunshot wound and a five-year-old beaten by police.
About 100 000 people walked from surrounding villages to march peacefully along the main road that circles Kathmandu, littered with bricks and burning tires.
A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to policy, said Friday’s curfew was necessary to prevent more violent protests.
Kathmandu residents rushed to markets for food and other supplies before the curfew began. Shortages of fresh food and cooking fuel continued due to the general strike.
Notices posted around the city asked government workers to report to work before the curfew began. — Sapa-AP
Associated Press writer Matthew Rosenberg contributed to this report