April 28, 2006

Nepal PM-designate fails to show as parliament opens

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal's parliament reopened on Friday
for the first time in four years, but the country's 84-year-old
prime minister designate was too ill to attend the opening or
his swearing-in ceremony.

The House began with two minutes of silence for the victims
of anti-monarchy and pro-democracy street protests, in which at
least 12 people died and thousands were wounded.

Outside thousands of Nepalis surrounded the gates of
parliament, waving party flags and chanting slogans to keep up
pressure for a new constitution.

Others attended the first public rally in Kathmandu in
three years to be addressed by a senior leader of the Maoist
rebel movement, which declared a unilateral ceasefire on

But with Girija Prasad Koirala too sick to attend his
swearing-in ceremony as prime minister 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," Krishna Prasad Situala, spokesman for Koirala's
Nepali Congress party, the country's largest, said earlier in
the day.

Monks in maroon robes and women in traditional tribal dress
were among thousands gathered outside the gates of parliament.

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.

On Thursday, Maoist rebels declared a three-month
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.

Those demands were underlined by the leader of the Maoists'
student wing who addressed a public rally in the capital
despite an arrest warrant against him.

"Our hands are not only used for making a fist," Lekha Nath
Neupane said in the Nepali language. "We are engaged in a
revolution for peace but if necessary we can pick up guns and
bombs again."

(Additional reporting by Raju Gopalakrishnan)