April 28, 2006

Nepal protests continue as parliament reconvenes

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Thousands of Nepalis surrounded the
gates of the country's revived parliament on Friday, waving
party flags and chanting slogans to keep up pressure for a new
constitution after weeks of street protests.

But with 84-year-old prime minister-designate Girija Prasad
Koirala too sick to attend his swearing-in ceremony in the
morning, the legislature was unlikely to take any major
decisions to immediately satisfy the crowd, politicians said.

"Parliament will sit, but it will only be a formal
sitting," said Krishna Prasad Situala, spokesman for Koirala's
Nepali Congress party, the country's largest.

Monks in maroon robes and women in traditional dress were
among thousands of people gathered outside the gates of
parliament, which was due to hold its first session in four

They were demanding elections be called for a special
assembly to write a new constitution and review the role of the
monarchy -- or even abolish it.

"Democracy hasn't yet come, our struggle continues," they

Others held up banners parroting the demands of Maoist
rebels who control vast swathes of the country and lent their
backing to the often bloody pro-democracy and anti-monarchy

"Protests continue until the announcement of an
unconditional constituent assembly," read one. "Abolish the
Royal Nepalese Army and set up a Nepalese Army," read another.

Life has largely returned to normal in Nepal since the
country's mainstream political parties called off their

That followed King Gyanendra's announcement on Monday
evening that he was reviving parliament and surrendering power
to the parties who led the protests.

But Koirala's ill-health threatens to get his fifth term as
prime minister off to an inauspicious start.

On Thursday, he was also too ill to attend a large rally in
the Kathmandu to celebrate victory for the pro-democracy
movement, sparking anger among many in the crowd.

Koirala's daughter Sujata said her father had bronchitis
and was on antibiotics. He had been also been given oxygen and
a saline drip on Thursday, but his health was gradually

"He is an old man, he is taking rest," she told Reuters
outside his room. "The only problem is that it was too hectic a
schedule and he is tired."

Sujata said the veteran politician would be sworn in later
on Friday if he felt better.

Ram Chandra Poudel, general secretary of the Nepali
Congress party, said parliament was unlikely to debate the
constituent assembly on Friday and might just pay tribute to
the victims of the street protests.

"Since the prime minister may not be able to table the
proposal in the house, today's parliament may pay tributes to
the martyrs and fix dates for the debate," said. "No decision
may be taken today."

On Thursday, Maoist rebels declared a three-month
unilateral ceasefire, and the government is expected to move
swiftly to match the truce once it takes office.

But the rebels have said they were expecting parliament to
declare elections for the constituent assembly on Friday.

(Additional reporting by Raju Gopalakrishnan)