April 28, 2006

Nepal PM-designate absent as parliament reopens

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal's parliament opened 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 this month's anti-monarchy and pro-democracy street
protests, in which at least 13 people died and thousands were

In a written statement to parliament, the absent
premier-in-waiting, Girija Prasad Koirala, promised to call
elections to a special assembly to draw up a new constitution,
hold talks with Maoist rebels and declare a ceasefire.

The acting speaker said a debate would be held on Sunday on
Koirala's proposals.

Outside, thousands of Nepalis surrounded the gates of
parliament, waving party flags and chanting slogans to keep up
pressure for a new constitution and a curb on the king's

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 three-month
ceasefire on Thursday.

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

"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 on Friday morning. "The only problem is that
it was too hectic a schedule and he is tired."

Maoist rebels kept up the pressure for a republic when the
leader of their student wing 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)