April 21, 2006

Nepal king says restoring power to the people

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal's King Gyanendra said on Friday
after weeks of violent anti-monarchy protests he would restore
political power to the people but the largest party said he had
not gone far enough and vowed more demonstrations.

At least 12 people have been killed and hundreds wounded in
police action against protesters since a seven-party alliance
launched a campaign on April 6 to demand restoration of
multi-party democracy.

King Gyanendra sought to ease the crisis on Friday,
announcing in a national address in the Nepali language that he
would give the alliance the power to name a prime minister.

"Executive power of the kingdom of Nepal, which was in our
safekeeping, shall from this day be returned to the people,"
said the king, looking serious and dressed in a Nepali cap and
black jacket.

"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."

The king appeared to rule out any change of the
constitution to curb his own powers, which has been a primary
demand of the political parties. They have said elections to a
constituent assembly, which would make such changes, was

Krishna Prasad Sitaula, a spokesman for the Nepali
Congress, a key constituent of the alliance, said the king had
not "addressed the road map of the protest movement."

"Our protest campaign will continue," he said.

The parties were to give a joint response later, possibly
on Saturday.


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.

Maoist rebels, who have a loose alliance with the
seven-party alliance, have insisted on a new constitution
prepared by a constituent assembly as a precondition to joining
the mainstream.

Gyanendra, who came to the throne after the 2001 palace
massacre when his elder brother, Birendra, was killed by his
own son, the Crown Prince Dipendra, has been under tremendous
international pressure to restore democracy.

The European Union and India both welcomed the king's
pledge to hand over power.

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."

After the speech, the U.S. Department of State said it was
pleased that Gyanendra had "made clear that sovereignty resides
with the people."

"We expect the king to live up to his words and allow the
parties to form a government," State Department spokesman Sean
McCormack told reporters in Washington on Friday.

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 took effect.

Black smoke rose from several places in the city of 1.5
million people as protesters tried to block movement of police
and troops. Protesters burned a government revenue office on
the outskirts of the capital and battled with police elsewhere
in the city. There was no word of serious casualties.

The curfew in Kathmandu began at 9 a.m. (11:15 p.m. EDT)
and was to continue until midnight (2:15 p.m. EDT), 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.

The reactions of local residents to the king's address were

"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."