Upon taking over on Feb. 1, 2005, the King said he was assuming power to crush Nepal's Maoist rebellion, which has claimed 12,000 lives. Instead, his repressive policies over the past year have helped unite the Maoists with the mainstream opposition: the rebels declared a unilateral cease-fire last September and forged a loose alliance with Nepal's seven main political parties. The Maoists ended their cease-fire on Jan. 2; since then they have killed at least 25 government troops and police. The King's hard-line approach has international observers worried about his ability to maintain power in the face of increasing chaos. "Continued violence and a persistent split between the King and the parties will only prepare the ground for Kathmandu's ultimate takeover by the Maoists," warns one Western official in Nepal.
The coming weeks promise deepening instability. The political parties have called for a nationwide strike on Jan. 26, and along with the rebels have vowed to disrupt the King's plans for local elections on Feb. 8. And the 10th anniversary of the Maoist insurrection falls on Feb. 13—a day marked by violence in the past. This year, King Gyanendra could discover that even absolute power has limits.