Murders in Nepal produce sorrow and deep suspicion
By Mike McPhate
Pacific News Service
KATMANDU, NEPAL – Two sobbing men embraced as riots raged around them Monday afternoon. “What will we do?” one moaned. “We have lost our mother and father.”
Sorrow followed news of the Nepalese royal family’s massacre Friday night. Virtually every shop in the capital closed, and has remained so.
But grief turned to anger over the weekend. Young men stomped about and rode in fleets of motorcycles waving red Nepali flags and pictures of the deceased King and Queen chanting, “Hang the murderer,” “We don’t want fake democracy,” and “We don’t want foreign pressure.”
And Monday, after three days of unsatisfactory government explanations, rioters played a nasty game of dodge ball using bricks and concrete with police who responded with tear gas and bullets. According to the Kathmandu Post, at least two protesters were killed and over 36 sustained gunshot wounds.
Since then, an all-out curfew has effectively emptied the streets.
The rioters, including many who shaved their heads in honor of the dead King, have been swarming foreign journalists, telling them that the massacre was in no way the result of a family spat, but a dirty conspiracy by a rival faction within the royal family.
According to Nepalese officials, Crown Prince Dipendra was at the palace with his family and a few close relatives for their regular Friday evening dinner. An argument ensued over Dipendra’s choice of bride, Suprima Shah, a beautiful school teacher and daughter of the Queen’s chief bodyguard.
Queen mother Aishwarya disapproved of the match and threatened to bypass royal succession and make his little brother, Nirajan, king if he went through with the marriage. Dipendra stormed away from the table and returned clad in army fatigues spraying the room indiscriminately with a semi-automatic rifle before turning it on himself.
People in the street paint a more sinister scenario. They say the assassinations were part of a plot by the murdered King’s younger brother, Gyanendra, and his son, Paras, to capture the throne.
As evidence, they point to the fact that Paras, who was present at the dinner, escaped unscathed while Gyanendra was conveniently out of town.
Further, Dipendra is considered too nice a person to commit such an act. “He was like the guy next door,” said one observer. “Everyone liked him.”
The government’s actions since the killings have only served to stimulate suspicion.
First, they withheld news of the Friday killings until as late as Saturday afternoon. Government-run media implied the deaths had occurred normally, with reports only mentioning that several members of the royal family had “passed away.”
Then, on Sunday afternoon, Gyanendra issued a laughable statement blaming killings on “the accidental firing of an automatic weapon.” He has since withdrawn that statement and promised to get to the bottom of things.
In addition, on different occasions officials have provided different times for the death of Dipendra, who reportedly remained on life support until early Monday morning. This has stirred suspicion that Dipendra was killed outright, and news of his death delayed to stall public outrage before Gyanendra assumed the throne.
“Gyanendra should be hung in public,” cried one rioter to the approval of onlookers.
Allegedly involved in smuggling operations, Gyanendra has not been popular. Paras is downright loathed.
He is rumored to be a murderer, and has had many run-ins with the law, commonly in nightclubs. In October, 1999, he allegedly jabbed a police officer in the face with the butt of a semi-automatic rifle. Later that year he was seen molesting a woman in a Katmandu nightclub and firing a gun into the air. Only months ago he is alleged to have murdered a prominent musician by running him over with his car.
“Paras is a bloody fool,” said former Nepalese Ambassador to the United Nations, Rishikesh Shaha. “He needs to be spanked.”
Some think the Maoist peasant uprising that has crept toward the capital from a few western districts over the last decade is involved. The Maoists met with political leaders in the weeks before the massacre, and two of the two highest ranking and most reclusive Maoist leaders – Prachanda and Babarum Battarai – had even met with Gyanendra.
While it is too early to say with certainty what occurred on Friday night, the all-consuming loss will have a long-term effect on the hearts and minds of people in Nepal.
Portraits of the royal family can be found in virtually every home in Katmandu. They have now been converted to shrines. For the Nepalese, the bloody removal of their King and Queen was more than the loss of a beloved first family. It was a cultural decapitation.
“I’m not one who loses heart easily.” said the 81-year-old Shaha. “But I’m finding it difficult to cope. The whole world is different to the one I used to know.”
Pacific News Service contributor Mike McPhate is a part-time reporter and copy editor for the Kathmandu Post, Nepal’s leading English daily. He is currently affiliated with a study abroad program in Nepal through the University of Wisconsin.
And try BART
Regarding the letter from the concord couple who had their new car damaged in a downtown garage, I offer the following: before entering any garage, find out what the monitor and damage-control policies are. Try parking in the outdoor lot behind Baskerville Hot Dogs, on Milvia Street between Addison and Center, where at least three people are on duty at all times.
While I sympathize with your problems, it sadly is a fact of life in most downtown areas that vandalism will happen and it’s a risk we all take just by going out in public these days.
The best solution i can offer is getting a ride to Concord BART, or parking there, and NOT driving all the way to Berkeley. It would save time, stress, and fuel.
Toxics deserves more staff
I write briefly in support of Jami Caseber’s effort (letter, June 1) to procure additional staff funding for the Toxic Management Division of the City of Berkeley. As a former Community Environmental Advisory Commissioner (and former chair for two years) I worked closely with Jami Caseber and with the staff of TMD. As Mr. Caseber has pointed out, the myriad environmental issues of the city, including chromium, dioxin, pesticides, lead, radioactive materials, particulate matter, hazardous waste, and West Berkeley air quality have, at times, overwhelmed the small city staff. Add to these the recent disclosures of arsenic in the wood components of playground equipment, stormwater issues at the Corporation Yard, and well surveying and monitoring (groundwater), and inevitably some of these potential threats (and assets, in the case of groundwater) do not get dealt with in a timely and comprehensive manner.
It is my belief that an additional staff person in the TMD would help ensure more effective and complete monitoring and correction of potential hazards in our community. I urge the City Council and residents to support this endeavor.
Major Development Gaming
First the applicant should cloak the development with a goodly name such as Gaia or Beth El (House of God). Get a politically correct mix of people to the hearing. Keep decision makers on an emotional plane with allusions to beloved children, the holocaust and potential bombings rather than descending to discussion of the actual context and relevant public policy. If pressed, use terms like a “handful” (of large events, diesel buses, whatever…) and “we don’t have any intention to…” instead of “we won’t…”
Staff should facilitate the approval process by not checking any of the applicant’s representations; they may include misrepresentations, which would make the plan unacceptable. And staff should not review precedents as each applicant has a unique set of political contacts. If necessary, staff should be prepared to change the process for preferred applicants midway, such as shifting review by Landmarks Commission to an unnoticed once-over at the Design Review Committee.
Applicant and staff should cooperate in delivering revised plans just before the hearing. These new plans should be incomplete and conceptual. Leaving specifics for staff to work out later allows key staff to apply their demonstrated creativity in accepting two extra floors of office as an “ancillary use,” labeling caretaker housing as “office” and rescinding creek restoration policy as well as the criteria of neighborhood detriment. Don’t worry if the last minute plans aren’t covered by the environmental review; instant “supplementals” can be thrown in.
Flipping agendas to keep project opponents the midnight hour or at least keep them in the dark until the last possible moment is also part of the game. Allow for a little public theater. The “adults” will take care of business out of the eye of public process.
It’s a great game for the winners. Too bad about the terrible consequences for public trust. Too bad for landmarks and living creek corridors. Who would have thought Berkeley would entertain paving the prime creek corridor by Live Oak Park so that kids could be dropped off and loaded into buses to go somewhere else for open space? What an absurd game!