[JURIST] Protesters stepped into action across Nepal on Friday in response to the traditional new year message [transcript] of King Gyanendra [official website; BBC profile], in which the ruler promised to hold general elections [JURIST report] and dialogue with the opposition. Pro-democracy protests [JURIST news archive] have been staged for over a week with demonstrators demanding the abdication of Gyanendra, who seized control of the government and dismissed elected officials [JURIST report] in February 2005. Gyanendra promised to restore democratic elections by April 2007 but opposition leaders criticized the king for failing to announce plans to ease the crisis and dismissed his pledge to hold elections in 2007 as an empty reiteration of previous promises.
Authorities arrested approximately 20 protesters on Friday, but the demonstrations did not escalate into violence, unlike Thursdays peaceful rally in Kathmandu where riot police fired on a group of lawyers [JURIST report]. In recent days, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal, the US State Department and the EU Presidency has each condemned the violence in Nepal [OHCHR release; State Dept. statement; EU Pres. statement] and called on Gyanendra to restore democratic elections. Reuters has more.