April 13, 2006

Nepal’s king renews election pledge

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal's embattled King Gyanendra
vowed on Friday to hold elections in his Himalayan kingdom but
gave no firm dates and did not appear to go beyond previous
promises to resolve a raging campaign against his rule.

The monarch's message, broadcast at the stroke of midnight
at the start of the Nepali Hindu New Year, looked unlikely to
defuse a violent pro-democracy movement that has killed four
people in the past week and wounded hundreds.

"It is our wish that in order to re-energize multi-party
democracy there should not be any delay in reactivating all
representative bodies through elections," the message said.

"May the efforts at ensuring sustainable peace and
meaningful democracy in the interests of the nation and the
people bear fruit during the new year."

The king's message was largely a repeat of earlier promises
to hold elections by April 2007.

The 58-year-old monarch also made no reference to the mass
campaign against his rule, which has brought the impoverished
country, wedged between India and China, to a standstill since
it began on April 6.

He said: "It is our desire that with the active
participation of all political parties committed to peace and
democracy, a meaningful exercise in multi-party democracy be
initiated through an exemplary democratic exercise like the
general elections.

That call apparently ruled out any involvement of Maoist
rebels who have been fighting since 1996 to topple the monarchy
and have joined hands with mainstream political parties to form
a loose alliance against the king.

More than 13,000 people have been killed in the Maoist
revolt which has strangled the aid and tourism dependent


The king called on all political parties to initiate a
dialogue aimed at reactivating democracy but gave no details.

"Dialogue must form the basis for the resolution of all
problems. We believe that there is no alternative to
multi-party democracy in the 21st century and the verdict of
the ballot alone is legitimate."

Nepalis had hoped the king's traditional new year message
would contain some new steps to ease tensions and end a
confrontation with his opponents.

However, there was no immediate reaction from an alliance
of Nepal's seven main political parties which launched the
campaign against the Hindu king.

King Gyanendra sacked the government and seized power in
February 2005 saying political leaders had failed to quell the
Maoist insurgency and hold long-delayed national elections.

Nepal, the world's only Hindu kingdom, traditionally
considered its monarch as a reincarnation of the Hindu God
Vishnu. But King Gyanendra is regarded by many as one of the
most unpopular rulers in the history of the country for his
crackdown on pro-democracy campaigners.

He has come under strong pressure from the United States,
the United Nations, the European Union and giant neighbor India
to rein in his troops and launch talks with political groups to
end the turmoil.

Although political opposition to his taking power began
immediately after his surprise move, the latest campaign has
been the most intense and brought tens of thousands of ordinary
people out on the streets.