May 19, 2006

Nepal rebels back move to curb king, want more

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal's Maoist rebels backed sweeping
cuts of the king's powers on Friday but said the changes should
not overshadow planned talks to end their decade-old insurgency
that aims to overthrow the monarchy.

The comments by the rebels came a day after Nepal's
parliament curtailed the powers of the king drastically and
took away his control over the army.

On Friday, about 5,000 people, shouting "it is a victory of
people," marched in Kathmandu, to celebrate the proclamation.

"We have to establish a republic," the cheering and dancing
crowds shouted barely 500 metres (yards) from King Gyanendra's
sprawling palace in the capital.

In the southern town of Narayanghat, crowds toppled a
statue of Mahendra, the father of King Gyanendra, and marched
through the streets, witnesses said.

Similar rallies were also held in other towns and
districts, residents said.

The proclamation also declared the royal family had to pay
taxes, scrapped the royal advisory council and declared Nepal
was no longer a Hindu kingdom but a secular country. It also
said that the king's actions could be challenged in court and
took over the power to make laws on the heir to the throne.

"Our party welcomes and supports it," the elusive rebel
chief Prachanda said in a statement.


But it was not enough, he added.

The proclamation seemed to have interpreted last month's
mass protests against the king and demands for a republic to
mean that the monarch should remain a ceremonial head,
Prachanda said.

"This is incomplete in itself."

He said the move was silent about "peace talks as a
solution to the problem of a decade-old civil war and this has
given rise to serious suspicion."

The Maoists have been fighting since 1996 to overthrow the
monarchy and establish one-party communist rule. In November,
the rebels and seven mainstream parties agreed to a loose pact
against the king after he grabbed power in February 2005.

They have agreed to talks aimed at ending a revolt that has
killed more than 13,000 people.

They are also preparing for elections to a new assembly to
draft a constitution and decide the future of the monarchy, a
key rebel demand.

Some analysts have expressed doubts over the effectiveness
of the proclamation, and said it could be challenged in court.
But the multi-party government asserts that the document
overrides the 1990 constitution and has the force of law.

Nepal's media widely welcomed it and the government
declared Friday a public holiday to mark the event.

"Nepali Magna Carta is born" read a banner headline in The
Kathmandu Post daily.

The United States welcomed the "historic proclamation."

"The United States supports the Nepal Government as it
continues its efforts to restore and strengthen democracy, "a
U.S. embassy statement said.

Cutting the monarch's powers was a key demand of last
month's pro-democracy protests, which forced Gyanendra's

King Gyanendra plunged Nepal into political turmoil when he
sacked the government and assumed power last year, saying the
government had failed to quell the Maoist revolt.