The crowd at Thursday afternoon\'s rally in New Baneswor was noticeably smaller than the 30,000-strong group that gathered on 2 December. That earlier rally was the largest opposition event in the capital Kathmandu since King Gyanendra seized power on February First.
Under a hot winter sun, the crowd reacted indifferently to most of the speeches. Half of them sat cross-legged in front of the stage while most of the others stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the flanks, craning for a view of the speakers. Others sat with friends in small groups far from the stage, shelling and munching on peanuts.
"We came to express our solidarity with the emerging democratic movement," said Narad Bhara Dwaj, one of three friends in their 30s and 40s who identified themselves as journalists-researchers. None of them belongs to a political party but they said they \'wholeheartedly\' back the seven parties that have been cautiously cooperating in an alliance since the summer. "The democratic process will ultimately prevail because Nepali people don\'t like autocracy," said Dwaj. "The speeches are just warming up," added Puran Bista. "Maybe soon more important leaders will arrive and (the crowd) will heat up-we hope it does."
At the 2 December rally, UML leader Madhab Kumar Nepal promised that the gathering was \'just a harbinger of the tsunami that is coming soon\' and would sweep 500,000 people onto the capital\'s streets. On Thursday, newspaper sellers threaded their way through the tight crowds. "Nagarkot killings," one cried, referring to the slaughter of 12 villagers at a religious festival Wednesday by a soldier who the army said \'snapped\' after being beaten for teasing local girls.
Speakers Thursday blamed the king for the murders and announced Friday\'s Valley-wide banda. "Since the king directly oversees the defence ministry, he must take responsibility for the killing and resign," thundered Nepal. It is time that the Nepali Army realises "it (does) not belong to an individual but to all the people of the country", added Nepali Congress leader Girija Prasad Koirala.
News of the slaughter followed the announcement Wednesday by government spokesman Shrish Shumsher Rana that the king\'s government will not join a ceasefire declared by Maoist rebels nor hold talks with their leaders. Hopes had been rising that the palace was planning to finally join the peace process after the king reshuffled his cabinet last week, specifically because the new group includes Narayan Singh Pun, who
previously negotiated with Maoist leaders.
The king\'s dismissal of the 12-point pact actually plays in the opposition\'s favour, says Devendra Raj Panday, co-chairman of the Citizens Movement for Democracy and Peace (CMDP). "The king will contribute more to the kind of political change we are seeking by being intransigent," he said in an interview Thursday. The CMDP has scheduled a day-long sit-in for the centre of Kathmandu on Dec. 19.
Raj Panday said his group is still hoping that the political parties can iron out their differences and take clear charge of the pro-democracy movement but that the CDMP is not joining hands with the alliance. That reluctance reflects the public\'s wariness of the political parties that many believe squandered a dozen years of multi-party democracy starting with 1990\'s \'democratic spring\'.
But one man in Thursday\'s crowd said he was ready to follow the parties\' lead. "People are responding very positively-you can see that by their presence," he said, looking out on the crowd in front of him.
"It will take a bit longer," added the man, who asked to not be named. "(These rallies) are a big step forward but still the king is against democracy...yet all the common people are gradually understanding the value of democracy, they are also coming to have a clear understanding of the actions of the king."
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This man seemed lost in a dream while others around him listened to a speaker at Friday\'s rally organised by the seven-party alliance in New Baneswor.
People climbed as high as possible to get a good view of the stage.
\'Peanut parties\' broke out everywhere on the fringes of the rally with friends sitting to chat and snack while the speeches continued.
The shade of a Pipal tree provided shelter from the hot afternoon sun.