Nepal back to work after republic, palace confused
Monday, 02 June 2008

REUTERS, KATHMANDU - Nepal went back to work on Sunday as government offices and schools opened for the first time since the Himalayan nation became a republic, ending its centuries-old monarchy.

A special assembly that voted on the monarchy's fate on Wednesday gave the dethroned King Gyanendra 15 days to vacate the imposing Narayanhity royal palace, a prime location in the heart of the national capital.

The government declared a three-day national holiday to mark the birth of Nepal as a republic, a crucial condition set by Maoist former rebels in a 2006 peace deal that ended their decade-long civil war which caused more than 13,000 deaths.

But the mood in the palace was subdued.

"Today is the first day in office after the assembly vote and there is all confusion," a senior palace official, who asked not to be named, said on Sunday, a working day in Nepal. "There is no one to tell us what to do and what not," he said.

"We are headless."

There are nearly 600 civilian employees --palace bureaucrats, royal photographers, drivers, cooks and maids -- still working in the palace. They were hired by the king and received direct instructions from him.

The government says it will either retire them or move them to government departments.

"We are loyal to His Majesty," the palace official said. "But we can't do anything for him."

In Gorkha, a small hill station 150 km west of Kathmandu, Maoist chief Prachanda visited an ancient palace from where the latest monarchy began centuries ago, and put up a sign board reading "Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal", state television reported.

The Maoists scored a surprise win in elections held in April, emerging as the biggest political party in the 601-member constituent assembly and are expected to form a new interim government.

Prachanda, who still goes by his nom de guerre, plans to turn the imposing hilltop palace with carved windows into a museum, the report said. The government took control of more than a dozen palaces, including the one in Gorkha, last year.

Thousands of people who marched on the streets of Kathmandu to celebrate a republic last week had demanded that Gyanendra leave the Kathmandu palace immediately.

Nepali media reports said he was consulting astrologers for an "auspicious" hour to move out of the still heavily guarded palace where he has been living since ascending the throne in 2001, after a bizarre palace massacre.

In that shootout, popular King Birendra and most royal family members were killed by Crown Prince Dipendra, who was unhappy with his parents' refusal to allow him to marry his girlfriend.

The prince also killed himself.

No public memorials were held on Sunday, the anniversary of that incident which broke the mystique of the monarchy, once revered by many Hindus.

Gyanendra has not made any comment after the assembly vote and is expected to move to his private home in Kathmandu.

Analysts say the ability of the squabbling political parties to steer the country through the transition will be tested in the coming days as they quarrel to form a unity government to oversee preparation of a new constitution, another key condition of the peace deal.

Emerging from years of Maoist conflict and political turmoil desperately poor Nepal is now trying to leap into an era of peace and development.
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