Nepal unrest threatens Swiss development aid
Swiss aid agencies working in Nepal are reviewing their activities after several days of unrest, following the killing of leading members of the royal family last Friday. The Swiss development agency has closed its office in Kathmandu, and says it is ready to evacuate staff if the situation gets out of hand.
The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SADC) said its office had been closed in the wake of a curfew imposed by the Nepalese authorities.
Both the SADC and the Swiss aid agency, Helvetas, said they were waiting for calm to return to the city before deciding whether to resume their activities.
Franz Gähwiler, Helvetas programme coordinator, warned that the political turmoil sparked by the killings of the royal family could seriously hamper development aid.
The Swiss foreign ministry has warned citizens not to travel to Nepal in view of the crisis. It said about 200 Swiss people currently lived in the kingdom, and ways were being examined to evacuate them.
The Nepalese authorities slapped a new curfew on Kathmandu on Tuesday, after demonstrators took to the streets again following riots on Monday, which left at least two people dead.
The demonstrators were demanding information about the killing on Friday of the King and Queen as well as eight other members of the royal family.
The authorities said originally that the royal household had been shot by the crown prince, Dipendra, who then tried to kill himself. He died on Monday of his injuries.
Dipendra's uncle, Gyanendra, who has succeeded to the throne, later contradicted the official line, describing the deaths as an accident.
The affair has sparked a political crisis, after the main opposition United Marxist Leninist Party refused to sit on a panel formed by the new King to probe the circumstances into the killings.
Analysts say Gyanendra now faces a struggle to restore the role of the monarchy as a pillar of stability, in a country which has long been racked by political infighting and Maoist insurgency.
Nepal has been a major beneficiary of Swiss development aid since 1950. The bulk of this aid has been in infrastructure, notably the building of bridges and roads, as well as education and healthcare.
Swiss development aid to Nepal is worth some SFr20 million ($11.2 million) a year, and the SADC works closely with the authorities in trying to foster democracy, to combat corruption and to engender respect for human rights.
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