April 24, 2006

Nepal’s king reinstates dissolved parliament

By Simon Denyer and Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - King Gyanendra on Monday announced he
would reinstate Nepal's dissolved parliament, prompting
political parties to say they might call off the mass protests
that have paralyzed the country.

The parties had vowed to stage a major rally led by two
former prime ministers on Tuesday, which had been expected to
attract hundreds of thousands of people.

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

"We call upon the seven-party alliance to bear the
responsibility of taking the nation on the path to national
unity and prosperity, while ensuring permanent peace and
safeguarding multi-party democracy."

Last week, the king offered to hand over power to a prime
minister nominated by the seven political parties, but the
parties said this was not enough.

His brief statement on Monday made no explicit mention of
elections to an assembly that would write a new constitution,
which has been another key demand of the protesters and of
Maoist rebels who control large swathes of the countryside.

But the king said his proclamation was being made
"according to the road map of the agitating political parties."

Arjun Narsingh K.C., a senior leader of the Nepali
Congress, the largest political party, said the alliance would
respond formally on Tuesday but was likely to postpone a major
rally planned for the capital on that day.

"It is the victory of the people's movement," he said.

The king, looking somber and wearing a traditional Nepali
cap and black jacket, also offered his sympathy for the first
time to the victims of 19 days of street protests.

"We extend our heartfelt condolences to all those who have
lost their lives in the people's movement, and wish the injured
a speedy recovery," he said.

There was no immediate word from the Maoist rebels, who
entered a loose alliance with the parties last year to end
royal rule. But analysts said the parliament was likely to
start a peace process with the Maoists that would lead to
elections for the constituent assembly.

Diplomats had been trying tried to broker a compromise
between the king and political parties.


Earlier on Monday, thousands of people demonstrated in
Kathmandu, largely peacefully, along the 27-km (17-mile) ring
road that circles the capital, kept out of the city by rows of
padded and helmeted riot police wielding sticks and shields.

The parties have reasserted their control over the protests
in the last two days, leading largely peaceful demonstrations
after two weeks of confrontations with security forces.

There were only isolated clashes on Monday, with at least a
dozen people injured, after police fired rubber bullets and
teargas on stone-throwing crowds and beat protesters.

Earlier the U.S. embassy ordered non-essential staff and
family members to leave the country. It also recommended
American citizens should consider leaving Nepal.

A State Department official gave the proclamation a guarded
welcome, saying Washington wanted the king to give up the power
to be able to dissolve parliament again.

"What's important is not only that power be restored and
handed over to political parties but that some commitments be
made that would prevent a repeat of the events of 2005," the
official told reporters.

Maoist rebels waging a decade-long insurgency against the
monarchy flexed their muscles by staging a raid on a district
capital just a few hours drive from Kathmandu.

Hundreds stormed the town of Chautara, 100 km (60 miles)
east of the capital, and fought a six-hour gun battle that left
at least five rebels and a soldier dead.

The parties have been agitating since April 6 to force
Gyanendra to restore multi-party democracy. At least 12 people
have been killed and thousands wounded in protests since then.

(Additional reporting by Raju Gopalakrishnan)