May 9, 2006

Nepal scraps some royal decrees

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal's new multi-party cabinet
scrapped several royal decrees on Tuesday, including easing
media curbs that were imposed by King Gyanendra after he sacked
the government and seized absolute power last year.

The king, who last month bowed to weeks of mass protests
and handed power back to political parties, had curbed civil
rights and media freedom after he grabbed power, accusing
political parties of failing to quell a bloody Maoist revolt.

Journalists were given longer prison terms for criticising
the king and a ten-fold increase in fines for defamation, steps
that were condemned by international media watchdogs.

The royalist government had also restricted independent
radio stations from broadcasting news, giving a monopoly to
state radio bulletins.

"We have scrapped some objectionable ordinances," Finance
Minister Ram Sharan Mahat told reporters after a cabinet

He did not give details but media reports said they
included decrees restricting press freedom and imposing
controls on non-governmental organizations.

The king handed power back to political parties after weeks
of protests in which at least 17 people were killed and
thousands wounded.

The new government has reversed some royal appointments and
ordered ambassadors to 10 countries to return home.

Earlier on Tuesday, a United Nations official met Nepal's
new Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and offered to help
with the Himalayan kingdom's efforts to end the decade-old
Maoist insurgency in which thousands have died.

Tamrat Samuel, a special adviser to the U.N.'s department
for political affairs, met Koirala in Kathmandu and conveyed
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's message.

"They (the U.N.) want to help Nepal establish peace,"
Suresh Chalise, Koirala's spokesman told reporters after the

"They want to know what can the U.N. do in this process."

Nepal's new multi-party government has matched a Maoist
ceasefire and both sides have agreed to hold peace talks,
although no date has yet been fixed for the first meeting.

Nepal's mainstream parties and the Maoist rebels, who
entered into a deal in November to oust the king, are now
preparing for elections to an assembly charged with writing a
new constitution and deciding the monarchy's future.

The Maoists have been fighting since 1996 for communist
rule in Nepal, but now say they are willing to accept the
make-up of the assembly and the decisions it takes.

More than 13,000 people have died in the conflict that has
badly damaged Nepal's aid and tourism dependent economy.