In 1990, after a rich and complex history marked by the reign of absolute rulers, Nepal became a constitutional monarchy. At that time, King Birendra lifted the 30-year-old ban on political parties and opened up the parliament to opponents. However, the King maintained considerable, excessive and equivocal powers. Nepal became the theatre of increasing political turmoil and in 1996, after their party’s splintering, Maoists launched their insurgency and open guerrilla warfare. Claiming an ideological legacy from the Chinese Revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, they fought for the abolition of the constitutional monarchy and the instauration of a Maoist state. The Communist Party of Nepal, excluded from the parliament, started a guerrilla war against the monarchy and official political parties. Numerous people facing bleak economic prospects, high unemployment, poor education and healthcare turned in hope to the Maoists' cause.
Civil War (1996-2006)
During the conflict that followed, more than 13,000 people were killed and thousands displaced. The Maoist strategy was first to attack police stations and government officials, but they also targeted suspected informants, landowners and civilians. Nepalese villagers would often find themselves caught in the middle of the conflict.
By abducting civilians and forcing some to give them shelter or to join their troops, Maoists imposed an increasingly authoritarian regime on many parts of rural Nepal. According to the United Nations, vigilante groups were formed to protect villagers, many of which were supported directly or indirectly by security forces. Local media reported violent incidents, such as mobs killing and terrorising people suspected of being Maoist supporters. Eventually, Maoist rebels bombarded larger regions, cut telephone and electricity lines and enforced economic and transport blockades in Kathmandu.
In 2001, amidst the upheavals, the crown prince massacred ten members of the royal family, before turning his gun against himself. The former monarch’s brother was then crowned King of Nepal, but as the violence increased, popular support for the royalty waned. In November 2001, after 4 days of violence during which more than 100 people were killed, the congress declared the state of emergency, granting more power to the ruler. Hundreds of civilians were later killed by rebels and governments’ military operations.
In 2005 King Gyanendra dissolved the lower house and took all executive powers. The bloodshed worsened - the army said 2,000 people were killed that year compared with an average of 1,200 in previous years. In September 2005, the Maoists declared a three-month unilateral ceasefire, unreciprocated by the royal government, who vowed to defeat them by force. In January 2006, Maoists attacked military and paramilitary installations throughout the Kathmandu Valley, long considered to be relatively safe from rebels’ violence.
With support from the seven parliamentary parties (SPA), the Maoist rebels arranged a mass uprising against the reign of King Gyanendra. The Nepalese government used various means to contain the uprising. Frustrated by lack of security, massive unemployment and poor governance, thousands of people took to the streets to demand that the King renounced his powers, but the royal government turned even more brutal and continued its repression. Daytime curfews were imposed amid a Maoist blockade, and food shortages took effect.
Soon there was a plan to hold a march with over one million people into the city center and encircle the royal palace. The security forces turned fierce; thousands of citizens were injured and twenty-one people died in the uprising.On April 21st 2006, following weeks of violent strikes and protests against direct royal rule, foreign pressure increased. The King surrendered his power and called for the country's parliament to reassemble, for the first time after four years.
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