Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Nepal prepares to become republic

Nepalese celebrate imminent change to a republic - photo 28 May
Many Nepalese are looking forward to becoming the world's newest republic

Nepal is due to become a republic and end 240 years of royal rule.

A newly-elected assembly is to meet in the capital, Kathmandu, to abolish the monarchy but its key vote has been postponed for a few hours.

As the assembly was being sworn in on Tuesday a bomb explosion in the capital injured two people.

Meanwhile thousands of people have gathered on the streets of the capital and near the assembly in support of "republic day".

This is the people's victory - with today's declaration of a republic we have achieved what we fought for
Kamal Dahal
Former Maoist guerrilla

"Let's celebrate the dawn of a republic in a grand manner," a voice blared from one loudspeaker, Reuters news agency says.

"This is the people's victory," former Maoist Kamal Dahal, 22, told Reuters news agency.

"With today's declaration of a republic we have achieved what we fought for."

Some 1,500 police, some with body armour and shields, ringed the conference centre where the assembly was meeting.

People celebrating and marching on streets of Kathmandu

It has also been enclosed by a ring of razor wire.

Nepal stands on the brink of huge change, says the BBC's Charles Haviland in the capital Kathmandu.

The Maoists, who emerged as the largest party in last month's elections, are committed to removing the monarchy.

They entered the political arena after signing a peace deal in 2006 ending a decade-long insurgency.

Leave the palace

The assembly is huge and Tuesday's ceremony, performed by an older member of the newly-elected body, saw 575 men and women being sworn in.

King Gyanendra
Has ruled for 238 years
Monarchs seen as incarnations of the Hindu God Vishnu
King Birendra killed in 2001 palace massacre by Crown Prince Dipendra, after which Birendra's brother Gyanendra becomes king
Oct 2002: King Gyanendra dismisses elected government, then a year later declares state of emergency
Feb 2005: Assumes complete control
April 2006: Mass demonstrations lead to end of direct palace rule

Many wore traditional clothing and used their mother tongues for the occasion in this ethnically mixed country.

The assembly has been given the initial task of rubber-stamping the abolition of the monarchy.

But a senior politician told the BBC the vote had been postponed for a few hours.

The Maoists and the other main parties are trying to settle differences about whether the presidency should be a purely ceremonial role and how much power the prime minister should have in the current interim arrangements. They are also arguing about who should hold these posts.

Even if that was not agreed on Wednesday the republic would still be voted in, the politician said.

The assembly then has two years to come up with permanent arrangements for a new constitution.

Hindu militants

Reports said King Gyanendra and Queen Komal were seen driving out of the royal palace on Tuesday afternoon, but it was not clear where they were going or for how long they would be gone.

I don't know what is going to happen but I don't see a smooth road
Anu, Kathmandu
Officials say they will be given 15 days to vacate the palace.

Exactly how a republic will be voted in is still not clear.

Nepal's progress towards becoming the world's newest republic has been marred by bombs being planted in the capital for two days running this week.

On Tuesday, two explosive devices were left in a city centre park, but police said only one exploded, slightly injuring two people.

As before, pamphlets were found in the name of a little-known hardline Hindu group.

Some militant pro-Hindu and pro-royal factions are campaigning violently against Nepal's shedding of its royal - and its officially Hindu - status.


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