April 25, 2006

Nepal parties call off protests, name leader

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal's seven-party alliance called
off crippling pro-democracy protests on Tuesday after King
Gyanendra announced he was reinstating the dissolved

The parties, speaking as thousands of people cheered and
danced on the streets, named former Prime Minister Girija
Prasad Koirala as the new head of government and said the first
job would be to ensure Maoist insurgents fighting a decade-long
rebellion joined the political mainstream.

A huge protest rally called for Tuesday has been converted
into a victory parade, and hundreds of thousands of people were
expected on the streets of the capital Kathmandu later in the

"We have called off the general strike and protest," said
Krishna Prasad Sitaula, spokesman for the Nepali Congress, the
largest party in the alliance.

"Today's planned protest has been converted into a victory
rally. This will go down in history as a new example of how
peaceful protests are held. This will determine the future of
the country."

The alliance named Koirala as the new head of government.

"All parties have a consensus for him," Madhav Kumar Nepal,
general secretary of the Congress Party of Nepal, told Reuters
after a meeting.

Life returned to normal in Kathmandu after almost three
weeks of curfew, protests and closures in which 12 people have
been killed and hundreds wounded. Many buses and taxis ran for
the first time since April 6, and mobile phone connections, cut
at the height of the unrest on Saturday, were restored.

But riot police were still deployed on street corners and
soldiers with automatic weapons were on patrol.

In a nod to the Maoist insurgents with whom the seven
parties have a loose alliance, Sitaula said work on an assembly
to write a new constitution would be the first priority, the
key demand of the rebels.

"The main agenda of this reinstated parliament will be to
hold elections to a constituent assembly."

Minendra Rijal, another alliance leader, said: "We will be
doing all we can to bring Maoists to the mainstream of peace
and democracy. Now we have to create an environment for an
interim government that will have Maoist participation."

It was a dramatic end to the weeks of protests that have
brought the impoverished kingdom to a standstill.

Nepal's parliament has been dissolved since 2002, and
Gyanendra assumed absolute power last year, declaring a state
of emergency and vowing to crush the escalating Maoist

Speaking on national television late on Monday, the king
said he was calling back the assembly.

"We, through this proclamation, reinstate the house of
representatives which was dissolved on May 22, 2002," he said,
adding that the first session would be held on Friday.

Impromptu victory celebrations erupted in Kathmandu and in
other towns almost immediately.

"This victory is the people's victory, long live
democracy," hundreds chanted on the streets, whistling and

The United States welcomed the move and urged a "ceremonial
role" for the king.

Gyanendra had offered last week to hand over power to a
prime minister nominated by the seven parties, but they said
this was not enough. Monday's address went much further in
content and in tone.


The king said he was reconvening parliament "convinced that
the source of state authority and sovereignty of the kingdom of
Nepal is inherent in the people of Nepal, and cognizant of the
spirit of the ongoing people's movement."

"For him to even acknowledge there was a people's movement,
that really shocked me," said Kunda Dixit, editor of the Nepali

The Maoists have not formally responded to the events, but
one activist said the rebels were expecting parliament to call
elections to a constituent assembly.

"If they do not, it will only be a regression," said the
activist, who spoke by telephone. At least 13,000 people have
been killed in the decade-long Maoist insurgency.

That was an indication of the mountainous tasks ahead of
the seven-party alliance. But first they have to choose a new
prime minister and set up the government, and given their
squabbles in the past, that will not be too easy.

"Our parties are better at fighting for democracy than
making it work," said Dixit, the editor.

The State Department said it saluted the people of Nepal in
the struggle for democracy and urged the Maoists to renounce

"We believe that he (the king) should now hand power over
to the parties and assume a ceremonial role in his country's
governance," spokesman Adam Ereli said in a statement.

(Additional reporting by Simon Denyer)