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Mission organisation worried about Christians in Nepal

Christians in Nepal face an uncertain future following the 1 June slaying of the Jesuit-educated King Birendra and most of the Royal Family, according to a US-based mission organisation.

"The last king was a person who favoured democracy, and for this reason had nothing against Christians," said Sarla Mahara, representative of Christian Aid Mission in Nepal, in the Michigan-based Mission Network News.

The situation is far more unstable now, including for Christians, Mahara said.

Maoist rebels battling the government in western Nepal could take advantage of the situation to grab more power, she said.

"The present government is totally confused with the new king who, in my opinion, favours a hard line," Mahara explained. "He is not much in favour of democracy."

Since the 1990 democratic revolution, measures have been implemented in support of religious liberty in this southern Asia nation of 24.7 million. Over the past decade, the number of Christians has grown tenfold, though they only constitute 2% of the population.

Nepal's Constitution theoretically guarantees the practice of all religions, but dictates fines and arrests for proselytism and conversion to any religion other than Hinduism. Such punishments were rare in recent years.

The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, in its Report 2000 on Religious Liberty in the World, noted the growth of Hindu fundamentalist groups, which in recent years have acted violently, especially against Protestant Christians.