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Photographer's Note

I am writing this note a few moments after King Gyanendra of Nepal announced, in a televised address to his nation, that he was giving up absolute power, and would restore democracy and return power "to the people from this day forward."

This follows two weeks of violent demonstrations in which 14 people have been killed and hundreds injured, with many still in critical condition in hospital. These demonstrations of ‘people power’ – the largest ever in Nepal - resulted in curfews being imposed in Nepal’s major cities, which in turn gave rise to food shortages and the collapse of the tourism industry.

Things weren’t always so bad for King Gyanendra. This photograph was taken on 7 July 2004, when people like these holy men came out onto the streets of Kathmandu for a different purpose – to celebrate the King’s 58th birthday.
However, six months later King Gyanendra seized absolute power claiming it was a necessary move to defeat a long-running Maoist insurgency. He initially promised that democracy would be restored within three years, but with the Maoists threatening "a massive bloodbath" if elections were announced, nothing happened. Then after restrictions were imposed on civil liberties, the media was subjected to censorship and some human rights activists were detained, the international community started putting pressure on the King, culminating in India sending one of its top envoys to Kathmandu a few days ago to urge the King to restore electoral democracy.
Gyanendra became King in June 2001 after his nephew, Crown Prince Dipendra (then heir to the throne) murdered his father King Birendra (Gyanendra’s brother), his mother Queen Aishwarya and seven other members of the royal family before turning his gun on himself.

The picture I have posted was taken just outside Kathmandu's Narayanhiti Royal Palace where the ‘royal massacre’ took place in 2001. The holy man in the middle is not waving to me – he is waving to a group of soldiers behind me who were keeping an eye on the crowd lining up to enter the palace to pay their respects to the King. (I’ve posted a picture of the soldiers in their unusual blue and black camouflage uniforms in the workshop).

Two years ago when I was in Nepal for the King’s birthday, it was clear that the people worshipped King Gyanendra like a god (in fact many believed him to be an incarnation of a Hindu god) and thousands of people would line the streets holding his portrait like the holy men I this picture. But over the past few weeks we have seen TV news images of people on the streets of Nepalese cities burning effigies of the King – something that would have been absolutely unthinkable just two years ago.

PP: Adjusted levels, saturation +6, USM.

delkoo, riclopes, fireflyz, siolaw, Stepan, plimrn has marked this note useful

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Additional Photos by David Astley (banyanman) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1237 W: 108 N: 2568] (7789)
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