Diplomatic efforts to stop Nepal from falling deeper into crisis are continuing, with the arrival Wednesday of an Indian envoy offering to mediate between King Gyanendra and those who want him to relinquish power. The arrival comes as anti-monarchy protests continue into their 14th day, and ahead of nationwide protests planned for Thursday.
Indian envoy Karan Singh says New Delhi does not want to interfere in Nepal's internal affairs, but it also does not want its neighboring country to fall into chaos. Singh was expected to meet with King Gyanendra and politicians ahead of demonstrations planned for Thursday, which some fear may turn violent.
Demonstrators have taken to the streets of Nepal's capital for the past two weeks, and a nationwide strike called by a coalition of political parties has brought the country to a virtual standstill. Residents complain that prices of basic commodities have risen, and some food is in short supply.
At times, the demonstrations have turned violent, with security forces firing rubber bullets into crowds and beating protesters. So far, at least six people have died, and there were reports of the police shooting several more in the eastern part of the country on Wednesday.
Leaders of an alliance of seven mainstream political parties predict that hundreds of thousands of people across the country will join the protests Thursday, in defiance of a government ban.
Opposition member J.N. Khanal says the demonstrators will break through police barriers to demonstrate in the heart of the capital.
"We will have to encircle the palace, encircle King Gyanendra," he said. "And he's not listening [to] our voice, the people's voice. We have to make him hear."
The protesters want the king to restore the democratic freedoms he revoked in February last year, when he dismissed parliament and curbed media and civil liberties.
The police began a pattern of repeatedly arresting hundreds of activists and opposition leaders over the following months. Hundreds are now reportedly in detention after the latest wave of arrests earlier this month.
King Gyanendra said he was forced to act because Nepal's political parties did little to stop the country's ten-year old communist insurgency. The rebels, who call themselves Maoists, want to topple the monarchy.
Analysts fear Thursday's demonstrations could be the most violent Nepal has seen.
The spokesman for the U.N. human rights office in Nepal, Kieran Dwyer, says rights workers have already witnessed several examples of the police using excessive force against protesters.
"Police firing rubber bullets into crowds of demonstrators, as well as police using latti charges - latties of course are long sticks…. One of the problems particularly with those is, we're seeing police often aiming at the head, and therefore sometimes causing serious injuries," he said. "We've also observed a pattern of severe beatings of individuals once they've already been brought under the control of the police."
The United States, India and the United Nations have repeatedly called for the king to restore democracy in Nepal and hold talks with the opposition.
The king has promised parliamentary elections next year, which he says will pave the way for a return to democracy. So far, he has remained largely unswayed by the political pressure being acted out in the streets.