July 9, 2006

Nepal PM skips parliament address, king sidelined

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal's new government presented its
annual policies in parliament on Sunday at a ceremony which for
first time did not include the king, and the prime minister was
absent to poor health.

The parliament, reinstated by King Gyanendra in April after
pro-democracy protests in which at least 18 people died,
recently stripped the king of his legislative roles and took
over his control of the army.

In previous years, King Gyanendra, who turned 60 on Friday,
delivered the annual address outlining government policy and

But on Sunday, the ornate throne from where the king used
to sit had been removed and a big national flag stood in its

Deputy Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli, addressed the
legislature on behalf of 84-year-old Prime Minister Girija
Prasad Koirala, who has been in hospital since last week with

"The government is committed to establishing sustainable
peace in the country by ending the decade-long violent
conflict," Oli said, referring to the Maoist insurgency in
which more than 13,000 people have died.

The new multi-party government and the Maoists have been
observing a ceasefire since the king ended his absolute rule.

Koirala, in a landmark meeting with rebel chief Prachanda,
agreed in June to set up an interim cabinet including the
guerrillas to oversee elections for an assembly to prepare a
new constitution and decide the future of monarchy.

The Maoists say the king must abdicate or face execution.
But some, including the ailing Koirala, see a ceremonial role
for the monarchy in deeply traditional Nepal.

"Given the present situation that the Communist Party of
Nepal (Maoist) is engaged with the government of Nepal in a
peace process to come to the path of peaceful multi-party
competition by giving up arms, it becomes a pious duty of all
of us to take a step at a quicker pace in the direction toward
establishing peace," Oli told the chamber.

Last week, the government invited the United Nations to
monitor weapons held by rebels and government troops ahead of
assembly elections expected in 2007.

Nepal's main political parties and the Maoists struck a
deal in November under which the guerrillas committed
themselves to rejoin the political mainstream.