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Briefs (right)

Nepal’s King Promises Elections
As Protests Continue

By Somini Sengupta

With thousands of protesters on the streets of Katmandu in Nepal’s version of a Prague spring, the government of King Gyanendra this week promised to hold elections and described its commitment to democracy as “unflinching.”

Speaking to the U.N. General Assembly late Wednesday, Nepal’s foreign minister, Ramesh Nath Pandey, said local elections could be held next April and national parliamentary elections by April 2008. Although the king has repeatedly said he believes in an elected system of government, Pandey’s comments offered the most specific timetable for elections to date.

Pandey said that the king is committed to “re-energize multiparty democratic institutions by restoring sustainable peace and making democracy meaningful, matured, cultured and refined.”

King Gyanendra removed the country’s elected parliament more than two years ago and assumed absolute control over the country’s affairs last February by declaring emergency rule. At the time, the palace said, the step had been taken because the country’s politicians had failed to crush a crippling Maoist insurgency.

Although emergency rule has been lifted, many restrictions on civil liberties remain, and Nepal, with a population of roughly 23 million, continues to be ruled by a hand-picked palace Cabinet.

Verizon Launches New TV Service
To Increase Competitiveness

By Ken Belson

Verizon Communications began taking orders on Thursday for its new television service, which the company hopes will draw business away from cable and satellite providers.

As part of a national strategy, about 9,000 Verizon customers in Keller, Texas, 30 miles west of Dallas, will be the first to subscribe to the television service, called FiOS TV. The service includes more than 180 digital video and music channels, 20 high-definition channels and video-on-demand for $39.95 a month, carried over fiber optic cables that were installed to replace older copper lines.

The service in Keller is part of Verizon’s plan to compete head-on with cable companies that in the last 18 months have started selling digital phone lines. To keep customers from defecting, Verizon and SBC Communications are starting to sell digital programming to complement their phone and broadband services.

The companies have taken different routes. Verizon is spending billions of dollars to run fiber lines all the way to customers’ homes — lines that also carry phone calls and broadband connections. SBC, by contrast, is running fiber lines to neighborhoods and using existing copper lines to reach homes.