Saturday, June 03, 2006

Ratna Redux

Finally got to the big rally.....

blogdai estimated the crowd to be at 650,000--plus or minus (below).

Streets were blocked off. The entire Ratna park, including the off limits no-entry zone were filled to capacity. Kantipath from Ratna up to the palace and west to Asan Tole was full as well. Durbar marg up to the Royal Palace's "zone of safety" was also chock full of people.

Vendor's were doing a brisk business in jewelry, melons and corn, yet the atmosphere was far from festive.

blogdai stayed directly on the grounds about one hundred meters from the speaker's podium for over an hour. Something was not right. It finally occured to blogdai that the entire gathering was under an eerie pall of silence. I have never heard such silence from a group this large. No smiles no chanting, nothing. You expect the crowd to respond to the speaker from time to time, but again, nothing.

Only one word to describe it: repressive.

From the looks on the faces of those attending, no one wanted to be there, save the small minority of those zealous angry teen Maoists shepherd dogs (above) who handled gate entry and passed out literature. Overall, a very underwhelming "show of force" from the Maobadis. No wonder K.P. Oli was able to muster up the courage to publicly condemn maoist threats today in the Himalayan Times.

We saw it in the April protests and now we see it again at Ratna Park: The maoist's operating tactic of using a few agressive individuals to coerce a large multitude once again worked to a tee. They are masterfully leveraging a small force of activists against a peace-loving and compliant public.

Prepare for the peacetalks to break down. Prepare for more months of conflict. Prepare to be led to the slaughter, Nepalis, if you continue to act like sheep in the face of these violent little boys.


Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Tipping Point

Can't get within a mile of Ratna Park but will try again. It's reaching a critical mass out in the streets. There's been a steady stream of humanity moving towards Ratna Park for the Big Rally. It just started (officially) but blogdai hasn't been able to get close. Even though Prachanda is a no show, there is tension in the air and the whole town is a tinder-box ready to ignite.

Those same bereft stone-throwing little boys we saw in the demonstrations last month are at it again; only this time they're wearing their Maoists finery. Nothing but peaceful co-existence for now, with maoists and security forces sometimes sharing crowd control duties. THERE ARE AT LEAST 500,000 PEOPLE MOVING TOWARDS THE CENTER OF TOWN RIGHT NOW. blogdai has watched this steady progression for the last 5 hours. Groups of young boys are getting increasingly bold now. Every chowk, every intersection and every major thoroughfare is full of them: directing traffic like they own the place. Maoist flags fly all around the ring road which has now universally been reduced to a big bus parking lot (above)---the result of the Maoists commandeering all transport heading into Kathmandu and forbidding any to leave.

A bad day to be in a car. Many new, mostly rural faces are on the streets touching and gesturing towards anything that hints of city-borne wealth. Groups of banner-waving Maoist factions from across the country clog traffic in waves. blogdai estimates there are hundreds of these "mini-mobs" (below) marching and chanting slogans at any given time.

What will happen at the rally? Many citizens are fearful that speakers will incite the crowd and turn them loose on houses and businesses in the capital.

The RNA has established an armed and ready "safe zone" encompassing durbar Marg and the Palace. They're on stand-by. Many feel that if the Maoists try to take over, the army will be turned loose. blogdai says: take aim and shoot straight, RNA.

Overall, the irrepressable Nepali spirit is still hopeful for a positive outcome. We'll see in an hour or so if Prachanda has manipulated this optimism to meet his own ends.


Mexican Stand-Off

15 minutes ago:

Got a little tense out at Naya Bazaar a few minutes ago. The Armed police found themselves sandwiched between two massive groups of demonstrating Maoists (pictured) on their way to Ratna Park for the Big Rally.

blogdai spent the last hour in the midst of the Maoist multitudes. Got me a free Prachanda tee shirt in the process. A pattern was evident and it showed the Maoist's mastery of mob control. Ninety percent of the marchers appeared to be bewildered villagers who were either forcibly coerced or promised jobs in Kathmandu by the Maoists. Circling the group like a wild pack of Australian sheep dogs were a core cadre of angry looking teenage boys. They kept everyone in line and shouted out the slogans for all to ape.

Standing with onlookers from time to time, blogdai was privy to one of those light-hearted Ironic nepali moments. Lots of laughter when throngs of maoists shouting "Maoists live" were shouted down by a lone poor dalit newspaper seller (with very strong lungs) saying: " The King to visit Patan today." This guy was going to make a living no matter what.

Anyway, tensions escalated briefly as the armed cops initially refused to let one group of Maoists join another at the top of the Naya Bazaar hill. Calmly, a young maoist asked the commander to move his trucks so all could pass (pictured). Politeness paid off because the commander moved five trucks full of armed police out of the way without so much as a threatening glance. Go figure.

Going to the Big Rally at Ratna park in a few hours. Don't anticipate any violence as Prachanda won't be showing his face. This was anticipated by blogdai and is a telling and ominous development. First and foremost, a Prachanda no-show almost guarantees that the maoists will break off peace talks. Surprised? Next, it is a clear indication--to the entire world, finally--that the Maoists have neither the confidence nor the military strength to ensure the safety of their leader and movement in the RNA's back yard.

I know we've been preaching to the choir here, but our predictions are sadly accurate. It's going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.