Nepal set to become a republic

Updated: 2008-05-29 13:30


Nepalese celebrate the impending end of monarchy outside the convention hall where Nepal's newly elected Constituent Assembly was meeting in Katmandu yesterday. AP

Nepal's lawmakers have opened the first session of a newly elected assembly and are discussing a resolution to abolish the monarchy and declare the Himalayan nation a republic, ending 239 years of royal rule.

Political leaders have said that once the resolution under discussion yesterday is passed the king will have 15 days to leave his 1970s-era concrete palace in central Katmandu.

There has been no reaction from the palace on the resolution under discussion.

The palace has rarely commented on political developments in Nepal since King Gyanendra was forced to end his royal rule and restore democracy after widespread protests two years ago.

Across Katmandu, young men marched with red flags as Nepalis young and old celebrated what many see as the culmination of a two-year peace process with communist rebels that began after weeks of unrest forced King Gyanendra to restore democracy.

Near the convention center where Nepal's newly elected Constituent Assembly met, thousands chanted "Long Live the Republic!" and denounced Gyanendra. While the celebrations were largely joyous and peaceful, police at one point used tear gas to disperse a crowd that gathered too close to the building.

The king has remained silent as it became apparent that his days as Nepal's monarch were numbered, and the country's leading politicians have in recent days threatened to remove him from the 1970s-era concrete palace by force if he refuses to go peacefully.

But in an apparent bid to defuse the potential standoff, the assembly will give the king 15 days to vacate the palace in central Katmandu after the republic is declared, said Bimalendra Nidhi of the centrist Nepali Congress, the second largest party in the assembly.

Nidhi made the comments after his party met with the Maoists - former insurgents - who hold the most seats in the assembly and are expected to lead the country's new government.

The Maoists gave up their 10-year fight for a communist Nepal not long after, and the election of the assembly in April marked the culmination of the peace process with the former insurgents.

The assembly is charged with governing Nepal while it rewrites the constitution. On Tuesday, 575 of its members were sworn in.

Another 26 members are still to be appointed, and last-minute talks among the political parties on filling those seats and how much power the newly created presidency would have - and who should fill the job - forced the assembly to postpone its first meeting until yesterday evening.

When the assembly did finally meet, the political parties have made it clear that their first act will be to declare Nepal a republic and do away with the 239-year-old Shah dynasty.

But getting rid of the monarchy is in many ways the least of the new government's problems, as evidenced by a string of small bombings that hit Katmandu this week, including two Wednesday. All the bombs - none of which have caused any serious injuries or deaths - appeared to be aimed at pro-republic politicians and activists.


(China Daily 05/29/2008 page12)