Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Nepal says king must go
"Nepal says king must go as nation marks 'democracy' anniversary
Source: Agence France Presse 04/24/2007
KATHMANDU, April 24, 2007 (AFP) -
Nepal's new government celebrated on Tuesday the first anniversary of the end of King Gyanendra's absolute rule and said the monarchy would be abolished by next year.
"By next year there will be no monarchy" and the world's last Hindu kingdom is "heading towards a republic," Ram Chandra Poudel, Nepal's Minister for Peace and Reconstruction, told a jubilant crowd.
The crowd thronged Durbar Square, the historic heart of old Kathmandu, for a rally commemorating what has become known as the "People's Movement."
The movement forced Gyanendra to agree to restore parliament on April 24, 2006, 14 months after he seized power in what he said was a bid to crush a Maoist revolt.
"On this day, Nepali people successfully fought for their rights," Premier Girija Prasad Koirala said, as a helicopter showered flower petals at a flag-draped parade ground ceremony earlier on Tuesday marking "Democracy Day."
"This day has given us the responsibility to build a peaceful, prosperous and a new Nepal by ending all sorts of problems and conflicts," he said as an army band play lively martial music and children paraded past carrying banners.
Last month, the rebels ended their decade-long insurgency and joined the government under a peace deal with mainstream parties.
"It's a long way for a country to come after ten years of bitter armed conflict," said Ian Martin, the head of the UN mission in Nepal.
"The Maoists have come from the countryside into the political process, the Maoist army has placed its weapons under storage and UN monitoring and we now have the interim parliament and government that the Maoists have entered."
The army -- once fiercely loyal to the monarch -- played a central role in the celebrations, in what observers said was a signal aimed at dispelling talk about cracks in the peace process.
As politicians said the monarchy was headed for the history books, King Gyanendra and his wife visited a temple on the outskirts of Kathmandu to sacrifice animals and offer prayers.
The trip to the temple is an annual ritual for the monarch revered by devout Hindus as a reincarnation of the god Vishnu, local media reported.
King Gyanendra dismissed the government in February 2005 and seized absolute power, claiming that the country was headed for anarchy.
But his heavy-handed crackdown on free speech -- including mass arrests of protesters and tight media controls -- led to a surge in anti-royal sentiment.
The king has already lost his title as head of state and no longer is army chief.
"The king has been the biggest loser and he has nobody to blame but himself. He gambled the institution of monarchy for his own benefit," said Kapil Shrestha, who teaches politics at Tribhuvan University.
At least 19 people died and 5,000 were injured in last year's protests, which forced the king to abandon direct rule.
But a range of issues threaten to make the road ahead a rocky one.
These include arguments over the date of constituent assembly polls needed to elect a body to rewrite the constitution and decide the king's fate.
"The future looks bright and promising but greater challenges lie ahead," said Shrestha.
The Maoists are impatient for Nepal to be declared a republic and have threatened to step up their campaign if the polls are not held in June as stated in the peace deal. The election chief has said he needs more time.
The Maoists, who still feature on Washington's list of foreign "terrorist" groups, are also facing continued allegations of mafia-like conduct including extortion, kidnappings and beatings.
The government is also wrestling with fallout from deadly clashes between Maoists and Mahadhesis -- a major ethnic group in the southern plains -- with the leftists accusing the sidelined king of provoking the violence. "