Joyous Nepalese celebrate 'Victory Day'

Waving flags replaced clouds of tear gas as tens of thousands of people in Kathmandu celebrated “Victory Day” over their king on streets where protesters had fought pitched battles with police.

Festivities that started late on Monday after King Gyanendra ended 14 months of absolute rule and restored Parliament, swelled to street parties by mid-morning, complete with marching bands, flags, flowers and dancing.

“This feels great,” said Bedram Kandel (26) as he marched along a road which had been banned from use by demonstrators as cries rang out of “Long live democracy”.

“I’m happy, we’ve got democracy, we’re proud of our movement. Look at us everyone,” shouted another marcher, 22-year-old student Bhola Guwagi.

Feelings continued to run high against the king with one group of angry men kept back by heavily armed police from the humbled monarch’s central Kathmandu palace. Some marchers cried, “Long live the republic”.

Others destroyed billboards displaying the king’s messages, which were dotted around outside his palace in the heart of the city.
Hundreds of police were on standby on the road leading up to the royal residence.

But the general mood was overwhelmingly joyful, despite the rejection by Maoist rebels of the king’s offer and threats of further violence.

“I’m so happy, but I also feel a very serious responsibility,” said a beaming Sunil Kumar Bhandari, a Nepali Congress leader released from the city’s district court after 21 days of detention in police barracks.

Wearing a flower garland and with his head smeared with red vermilion—used as a mark of blessing at religious events—Bhandari said he would spend his first day of freedom celebrating on the streets.

Opposition parties cancelled a massive protest rally to be held on Tuesday on the ring road encircling Kathmandu and turned it into a victory party instead.

At least 100 000 massed on the 27km road, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) estimate, that was the scene of some of the worst clashes over the last three weeks. The exultant crowds tinged their joy with warnings to the politicians: “Leaders, be careful of the king”.

“The king has deceived us many times,” said Chavindra Raj Kadel, who looked to be in his late thirties.

Still, there was relief at the monarch’s restoration of Parliament.

“He hasn’t given 100%, but he has given 75%,” said Nabin Manandhar (35) a member of the Nepali Congress party, who was part of a raucous circle chanting slogans around a large flag.

A little ahead, a folk band playing large curved Nepali horns, drums and cymbals led a march.

No security forces were in sight except for a brief moment when a truck carrying 35 riot police pulled up. The music and marching stopped, then started louder than ever as the police drove off without a word.

Even news of the Maoist reaction did little to dampen spirits.

“Their stand is different but they will come. They also don’t have another road,” said Kusum Kumar Karki, a member of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), who was also freed from detention on Tuesday.

Gangs of men jammed the backs of pick-up trucks waving flags as the throng converged on the heart of the city yelling and whistling. Some had plucked branches off trees to wave in the air.

Another celebrant, Yuvraj Ghimire said: “It feels great because we’ve got our freedom and our lives back and we’re ecstatic.”

Crowds from different parts of the capital headed into the centre, filling the road and a central park as people sprinkled cooling water from the rooftops onto the teeming masses, an AFP reporter said.

Earlier in the day, trucks carrying supplies rumbled through the streets of Kathmandu, effectively signalling the end of a 19-day general strike called by the opposition parties to force an end to the king’s absolute rule.

Queues formed at newly opened shops as the Nepalese capital breathed a sigh of relief over the king’s climbdown.

“I’m very happy today because there’s peace everywhere,” said Srijana Shreshtha (32), who opened her grocery shop in central Kathmandu, though there were few items for sale.—AFP

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