April 21, 2006

Nepal king says handing power to the people

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal's King Gyanendra, facing
sweeping anti-monarchy protests, said on Friday he was handing
over political power to the people and asked a seven-party
alliance to choose a new prime minister.

There was no immediate reaction from the parties which have
spearheaded more than two weeks of violent protests to force
the restoration of democracy.

But the king appeared to rule out any change of the
constitution to curb his powers, which has been one of their

"Executive power of the kingdom of Nepal, which was in our
safekeeping, shall from this day be returned to the people," he
said in an address to the nation in the Nepali language.

"We ask the seven-party alliance to recommend the name for
the post of prime minister at the earliest for the constitution
of a council of ministers, which will bear the responsibility
of governing the country in accordance with the constitution."

Looking serious and dressed in a Nepali cap and black
jacket, Gyanendra said he was making the move "in keeping with
the tradition of the Shah dynasty to reign in accordance with
the popular will, in the greater interest of the nation and the
people, and our unflinching commitment toward constitutional
monarchy and multi-party democracy."

The reactions of local residents were mixed.

"The king has given all he can," said Bobby Singh, a pilot
with Royal Nepal Airlines. "Now the ball is in the seven-party
alliance's court."

Prominent women's rights activist Prabha Thakar said: "It's
the best news in a while. It's not the be-all and end-all, but
at this point in time, I think there is definitely a light at
the end of the tunnel."

The constitution issue was troubling, said Uttam Ghimire, a
teacher. "I don't think the seven political parties will agree
with him because their main demand is a constituent assembly
and he has not addressed this demand."


At least 12 people have been killed and hundreds wounded in
the pro-democracy campaign, which was launched on April 6.

On Friday, protesters burned tires and threw logs and
barbed wire across the streets of the capital, Kathmandu, as a
curfew imposed to prevent a march on the palace came into

Black smoke rose from several places in the city of 1.5
million people as protesters, angry at the king's sacking of
the government last year, tried to block movement of police and

Protesters burned a government revenue office on the
outskirts of the capital and fought street battles with police
elsewhere in the city. There was no word of serious casualties.

The curfew in Kathmandu began at 9 a.m. (0315 GMT) and was
to continue until midnight (1815 GMT), but was only being
enforced within the city limits. On the ring road outside, tens
of thousands marched, waved party flags and chanted slogans
demanding the king leave the country.

Riot police, troops with automatic weapons and armored cars
stood at major intersections to bar protesters planning to
march on the palace.

On Thursday, police opened fired on tens of thousands of
demonstrators trying to enter the city. At least three people
were killed and up to 100 injured.

Gyanendra sacked the government and took full powers in
February 2005, vowing to crush a decade-old Maoist revolt in
which more than 13,000 people have died.

U.S. ambassador James Moriarty, speaking to Reuters
Television just two hours before the address, said the king had
no choice but to relent to the parties' demands.

"If he doesn't do that, I think the monarchy will not last
and ... we are going to see a revolution inside Nepal.

"It would mean wider chaos and it would mean a good chance
for the Maoist insurgents to take over this country."

The rebels have a loose alliance with the political parties
and have vowed to join the mainstream if there is a
representative government in Kathmandu.