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Nepal set to abolish monarchy PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 29 May 2008

Nepalese take part in a rally in support of Nepal becoming a republic in KathmanduAFP, KATHMANDU - Nepal was set for historic change Wednesday with a new assembly dominated by former Maoist rebels poised to sweep away the Himalayan kingdom's 240-year-old monarchy and declare a republic.

Security was tight in the capital Kathmandu, with more than 1,500 police ringing a conference centre where the constitutional assembly is expected to sack unpopular King Gyanendra.

Proceedings were due to start at 11:00am (0545 GMT), but a Maoist spokesman said his party was still locked in closed-door talks with the nation's elderly prime minister, Girija Prasad Koirala.

"The meeting will be further delayed until they reach an agreement," Ananta, deputy commander of the Maoist People's Liberation Army, told AFP, signalling the parties were divided on who should be Nepal's first president.

The constitutional assembly meeting will be the culmination of a peace process that brought the Maoists out of the hills and jungles of one of the world's poorest countries in 2006 and into the political mainstream.

Kathmandu has been tense ahead of the event, having been hit by a string of small bomb attacks this week. Police say they suspect die-hard royalists were behind the attacks.

Hundreds of people defied a ban on protests and gathered at the conference centre to press for an end to Gyanendra's turbulent seven-year reign.

"I can't even say how I feel today. In my lifetime such an event has never happened. It is big change that we have been waiting a long time for," said a teary-eyed Julia Chitrakar, 45, a local women's rights activist.

The Maoists' feared youth wing -- accused of beating and intimidating the group's rivals -- was also planning massive celebrations, its leader said.

"This is a golden day for Nepal and Nepalese. It's the end of an era and the start of a new era," said Sagar, the leader of the Young Communist League.

Authorities have banned meetings in certain sensitive areas, including outside the palace -- apparently to protect the king from being dragged out by force.

The Maoists have told Gyanendra and his son Crown Prince Paras -- loathed for his alleged playboy lifestyle -- to bow out gracefully or else face "strong punishment."

Maoist spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara said the king would have a deadline of seven to 15 days to vacate the palace.

Gyanendra was crowned after the 2001 slaying of his popular brother Birendra and most of the royal family by a drink-and-drug-fuelled crown prince who later killed himself.

Although seen by loyalists as the reincarnation of a Hindu god, Gyanendra never managed to win much support from the public, having been falsely seen by many people as somehow involved in the palace killings.

He still enjoys some support from Hindu hardliners and powerful elements in the armed forces and ruling elite, but most observers say republican sentiment in the country is now overwhelming.

The former Maoists, who fought for 10 years to remove the king and create a republic, emerged as surprise winners in constituent assembly elections last month, taking a third of the body's 601 seats.

Wednesday's session of the assembly was expected to start with the prime minister proposing the implementation of a republic. The question will then be voted on.

"It will take quite some time. After the participating members have signed, we will have to count the votes," Manahor Prasad Bhattarai, the acting general secretary of the constituent assembly, told AFP.

The official end of the monarchy will be announced once a simple majority in favour of abolition has been confirmed, Bhattarai said.

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