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Nepalese Opposition Welcomes Return of Parliament

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

Katmandu is calm today after nearly three weeks of protests. Nepal's king, yesterday, bowed to the demonstrators' demands and announced that the parliament would be reinstated. The country's Alliance of Opposition Parties called off today's mass protest. It was expected to be the largest to date. Instead, tens of thousands participated in a victory rally from the capital.

NPR's Philip Reeves reports.

PHILIP REEVES reporting:

Katmandu is bustling again. Taxis and buses are running. The streets are full of shoppers. More than two weeks of strikes, mass protests and bloodshed brought Nepal to a near standstill. That's now over.

(Soundbite of King GYANENDRA speaking on radio)

REEVES: The king's decision announced in a late night national television address to reinstate Nepal's dissolved parliament is being held as a victory by the alliance of seven parties that lead the at times bloody pro-democracy campaign.

They've now called the campaign off. Today, the king's words, made under intense international pressure, were welcomed on the streets on of his capital, which has been under curfew for five days. Alena Gorham(ph) is a student.

Ms. ALENA GORHAM: I think that was a good move from the king. I think it's a positive note after such a long time of disaster and stuff like that. We all are positive towards the new move. Life has been tough here.

REEVES: Do you think this is the end of the problems with demonstrations and uprisings?

Ms. GORHAM: We are crossing our fingers. We really hope so (unintelligible)

REEVES: Sarendra Marenda(ph) runs a vehicle rental company. Nepal's political crisis has been crippling business. He's now hoping life will look up.

Mr. SARENDRA MARENDA: Yeah, I'm happy with that, because you know now we get a full democracy, I think now.

REEVES: A leather goods salesman, who gives his name only as Pratab(ph), is also back in business today after days of earning nothing.

Mr. PRATAB: (Through Translator) The curfew had completely put a halt to all the business transactions and we really had to suffered a lot under the curfew. I have not been able to calculate how much we've lost during this 18-day ban or curfew time, but we haven't been able to pay the salary of our staff and we've lost a lot.

REEVES: But the way ahead is neither easy nor clear. Nepal's new parliament is expected to elect a body to write a new constitution. It will under pressure to ensure the king can never again seize autocratic powers, and to take the army away from the palace's control. Some here wanted to scrap the monarchy altogether. The political parties to whom the king has transferred power also have a bad reputation of their own based on their past record in office.

Many Nepalis consider them corrupt and incompetent. Pratab says this time they better get it right.

Mr. PRATAB: (Through Translator) The people want peace and stability in the country. So now it's up to the leaders to quell the situation and control the situation in the street.

SMITH: And on the street, opinions divided. Fierce arguments broke out today at the spot where many of the demonstrations against the king have been held.

(Soundbite of protestors arguing)

Thousands of people, some joyous, some disgruntled, gathered today. Among them Sajin Guru(ph), a 24-year old student.

MR. SAJIN GURU: What they have expected from the king they got it, but what we have expected, what the people have expected we haven't getting it.

REEVES: What they want is a republic, and he says they will carry one protesting until they get it.

Mr. GURU: That is what we want. That is the main thing we want--(unintelligible)

REEVES: There are other unsettled issues. One of the driving forces behind the mass protests in Nepal has been the public desire for a government that will negotiate with the Maoists, the Maoists whose insurgency has claimed thousands of lives in the last decade. People want the Maoists brought into a pluralist democracy. But today, Nepal's Maoist insurgents reportedly rejected the king's move as a sham. Nepal's nightmare is receding, but it's too soon to say it over.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Katmandu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.