KATMANDU, Nepal – The taxi driver wheeled around at the sight of hundreds of men closing in on him, his getaway marred by a rock thrown through the back window — the mob's retribution for daring to work instead of protesting the rule of Nepal's king.
"We will smash all the window's in the royal place," declared the rock thrower, Gopal Moktan, smiling triumphantly on Tuesday morning as he and thousands of others gathered on the edge of Katmandu for a sixth day of protests to demand that King Gyanendra restore democracy.
The small scene in many ways is the story these days of Nepal. Daily demonstrations are looking more like a mass uprising, yet one that without clear leadership is growing increasingly angry — and violent — in the face of a bloody crackdown by security forces.
Tuesday saw more violence as scores were injured in Katmandu, where demonstrators taking shelter in narrow alleys in the Gangabu neighborhood threw stones at police — who in turn charged the protesters with batons, firing tear gas and rubber bullets.
Brian Cobb, an American doctor who set up a small clinic to treat those injured in the protests, said police had stormed his makeshift operation and attacked his patients.
As the protest wound down in the late afternoon, at least six police officers could be seen beating a person on the roof of a four-story brick building, kicking and belting the victim with batons.
At least two people were also injured in the resort town of Pokhara when police fired rubber bullets at protesters.
The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal said in statement Tuesday that security forces were "using excessive force against demonstrators," noting that peaceful protests have been violently broken up and people faced "severe" beatings even after violent demonstrations have been brought under control.
Despite the assaults, the demonstrations have, for the first time since Gyanendra seized power 14 months ago, brought thousands of workers, professionals and business people into the streets alongside students and political activists.
The Kathmandu Post newspaper on Tuesday even called the protests a "janandolan," or "people's movement" in Nepali.
"The level of defiance is unprecedented — it never happened before, even in 1990," said Yubaraj Ghimire, editor of the respected Samay weekly, referring to the last mass democracy movement, which forced the late King Birendra to yield much of his authority 16 years ago.
Gyanendra says he seized back power 14 months ago to stamp out political corruption and quell a communist insurgency that has killed nearly 13,000 people in the past decade.
The move was at first welcomed by many of Nepal's 27 million people. But a worsening insurgency and collapsing economy have fueled the discontent so visible in recent days as protests have gripped the country's major cities and far-flung towns.
A bloody crackdown by security forces has clearly exacerbated the situation. Three protesters have been killed, hundreds injured and more than 1,000 people jailed, including some of the top leaders of the seven-party opposition alliance, which is organizing the protests and an indefinite nationwide strike. Curfews have been in effect in Katmandu and two other cities since Saturday.
Ghimire said that because of the harsh crackdown, protesters are retaliating with violence.
"A visible leader could have a mollifying effect," he said.
But no singular figure to rally around has emerged. Most of the leaders of the seven-party alliance are either imprisoned or underground, and all belong to an older political class largely viewed as squabbling and corrupt by many Nepalese, especially the younger ones.
The result is "young people at times reacting to violence the only way they know how — with violence," said Dhruba Adhikary of the independent Nepal Press Institute.
That was clear in Gangabu, where witnesses said thousands of protesters, most of them young people, were spoiling for a fight even before police arrived shortly after noon Tuesday.
"These youths are futureless, they have no fear," said Mani Ranjit, a 58-year-old engineer who was watching as the protest geared up.
One of the young people, K.C. Dawadi, 25, said he was a student leader and declared, "violence is not our answer."
All around him, young men shouted about killing the king, even though the opposition says it's willing to accept a constitutional monarchy.
A half hour later, Dawadi was out in front of the unruly protest, hurling stones as police wielding batons and shields moved in.
Nestled between China and India in the Himalayas, Nepal was once known as a medieval Shangri-La. To this day, Nepal attracts hippies in search of eastern spirituality and climbers looking to scale its towering peaks, such as Mt. Everest, even as it's become a link in a chain of unstable countries encircling India.
Communist rebels are backing Nepal's opposition protests, and the government alleges rebels have infiltrated the demonstrations to instigate violence — a charge denied by the opposition.
On Tuesday, authorities authorized security forces to search houses in Katmandu for militants.