[This brief news digest was prepared by Sara Shneiderman and Mark Turin,
researchers from Cornell and Cambridge universities, who are currently
based in Nepal. Due to the ongoing communications blackout and widespread
censorship in effect, little information about Nepal is getting out. We
are sending this email out through a secure V-SAT link from a foreign
mission in Kathmandu. Please disseminate this news digest widely to
friends of Nepal, to media outlets and to politicians in your own country
who may be willing to express their condemnation of the King's action. We
will continue to send brief updates as often as we can until
communications are restored.]

At 10am on Tuesday, February 1, 2005, Nepal's King Gyanendra gave a
televised address in which he sacked the country's coalition government,
dissolved the ministries and suspended fundamental rights under a State of
Emergency. Citing Article 127 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal,
1990, the King constituted a council of ministers under his own
chairmanship.

During his 40-minute speech to the nation, he heaped scorn upon Nepal's
political parties for allegedly destroying the country's infrastructure.
According to the King, despite having had adequate opportunities to
resolve the state's ongoing conflict with Maoist insurgents, or call an
election, the political parties had failed the people of Nepal. Laying
claim to the glorious history of the Shah dynasty, Gyanendra stressed the
age-old relationship between King and subjects and promised to restore
multi-party democracy within three years.

As the speech came to a close around 10:40am, all fixed and mobile
telephone lines were cut, and non-satellite internet connections were down
by the end of the day. By noon, the Kathmandu Valley was effectively
sealed off from the rest of Nepal and the outside world: Tribhuvan
International Airport was closed, with all incoming flights diverted
elsewhere, and the main road arteries out of the Valley were blocked by
security forces.

Despite these draconian measures, the city was calm, with most shops
remaining open through the end of the business day. There were rumours of
a curfew, which sent schoolchildren scurrying home in the mid-afternoon,
but these were unfounded. Armed security forces in riot gear were deployed
across the city, and there was little obvious protest against the King's
move.

Many citizens said they were relieved that the King had taken control,
stating that there was no other way out of the political stalemate that
has crippled the country for the last several months. To them, Gyanendra's
move was a brave risk, which would either see the King's previously mixed
reputation cleared, or destroyed once and for all. There were also many
sceptical voices, who feared a return to Panchayat era secrecy and the
repeal of liberties hard-won over the last fourteen years of democratic
process.

By Tuesday evening, there was no sign of communications returning, and
people gathered what information they could from their colleagues,
neighbours and friends. In discussions with Nepali journalists and
academics, foreigners in official and diplomatic positions in Kathmandu,
conflict monitoring groups and the media, we learned that the leaders of
major political parties, trade unions and student organisations were under
house arrest or taken to one of six major detention centres around the
valley. Captains and majors of the Royal Nepal Army were stationed in the
editorial offices of all national dailies in order to censor the morning
editions before they were put to bed.

On Wednesday, many of the foreign missions based in Kathmandu issued
statements. They had been taken by surprise by the royal-military coup,
and the United Nations, Unites States, United Kingdom, the Council of the
European Union and India all expressed varying degrees of strongly-worded
concern. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that he would not
attend the SAARC summit scheduled for the coming week in Bangladesh as a
vote of protest against 'political turmoil' in the region. Only China was
reported to have accepted the King's power grab without critique, stating
that it would not pass judgement on Nepal's internal affairs. Prachanda,
Chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), issued a passionate
statement dated February 1 condemning the King's action and calling upon
'pro-people forces' in the country to join with the Maoists to topple the
monarchy and build a republic. The Maoists reiterated their call for a
three-day national strike, which had predated the royal proclamation.

Judging by the traffic on the streets on Thursday morning, the Maoist call
was not heeded, which many saw as an indication of King Gyanendra's
influence over the populace and iron grip over the nation's capital.
Outside of Kathmandu, the Maoist strike was apparently observed. Reports
started to trickle in from the rest of the country, thanks to limited road
travel in private vehicles and a brief reprieve in the communications
blackout (landlines were turned on for one to two hours each evening, but
internet servers, cellular phones and international lines remain blocked).

Specific events reported by reliable sources include a student
demonstration at Prithvi Narayan Campus in Pokhara which was fired on by a
military helicopter gunship leaving several protestors badly injured if
not dead; the blocking of all FM radio broadcasts outside of Kathmandu and
the instruction to those broadcasting in Kathmandu to play only
entertainment-oriented programmes; the BBC FM station recently established
in Kathmandu being forbidden from broadcasting the news in Nepali; the
closure of news stands outside of the Valley; and a 72-hour blockade on
long-distance public bus travel in and out of Kathmandu.

As of writing on Friday morning, the communications network remains down.
Journalists and human rights activists are concerned that they will be the
next targets for arrest now that most political leaders have been muted.
It remains to be seen how wide the web of detentions will be, but there is
a sense of powerlessness and foreboding for the future among those who
have previously expressed criticism of the state in any way.