Nepal Reinstates Lower House of Parliament
By TIM SULLIVAN, Associated Press Writer 2 hours, 13
KATMANDU, Nepal - Nepal's embattled king appeared to
defuse weeks of mass protests that have pushed this
Himalayan country near the brink of anarchy,
reinstating the lower house of parliament on Monday as
his opponents had demanded.
With few choices left and hoping to avoid a bloody
showdown between demonstrators and his security
forces, Gyanendra's announcement cleared the way for
the creation of a new constitution that could leave
him largely powerless, or even eliminate the monarchy.
Gyanendra also expressed his sympathies for the 14
demonstrators killed by his security forces in nearly
three weeks of protests.
"We extend our heartfelt condolences for all those who
have lost their lives in the people's movement,"
Gyanendra said in the address, broadcast on state
television and radio.
Nepal's three largest opposition parties welcomed the
king's comments, and the sounds of celebratory shouts
and whistles could be heard in the streets of Katmandu
minutes after the 11:30 p.m. speech.
Gyanendra "has addressed the spirit of the people's
movement" and met the demands of the main opposition
seven-party alliance, said Ram Chandra Poudel, general
secretary of the Nepali Congress.
Amid the increasing chaos, the State Department
earlier Monday ordered all non-emergency embassy staff
and family members to leave Nepal, according to an
embassy spokesman, Robert Hugins.
The king's address effectively handed power back to
elected politicians hours before the largest planned
protest yet, with hundreds of thousands of people
expected to attend. The seven parties planned to meet
Tuesday to call off the protests, party officials
From now on, the seven-party opposition alliance would
"bear the responsibility of taking the nation on the
path of national unity and prosperity," Gyanendra said
in his address.
"We are confident the nation will forge ahead toward
sustainable peace, progress, full-fledged democracy
and national unity," said the king, sitting rigidly in
front of a blue backdrop decorated with royal emblems.
For much of the crisis, Gyanendra had remained silent
and invisible, hidden behind the walls of his heavily
guarded central Katmandu palace and kept in power
because of the loyalty of his army and police.
The reaction of Nepal's Maoist guerrillas, who have
seized much of the rural heartland in a bloody
decade-long quest for power and who had joined with
the alliance to back the protests, remained unknown.
However, their influence has surged with the protests,
and they would almost certainly lobby for a role.
In the Chabahal neighborhood of Katmandu, about 50
people streamed into the street singing and clapping.
"This is the people's victory! Long live democracy!"
"The people from every corner are pleased to come and
celebrate," said Prakash Nepal, a 40-year-old bank
employee among the crowd. Other rallies were reported
elsewhere in the city.
The reinstatement of Parliament was a key alliance
The reinstated lower house, which the king called to
convene Friday afternoon, was to create an interim
government under the alliance's plan, which would then
set up special elections for an assembly. That
assembly, in turn, would write a new constitution.
Parliament's lower house holds real elected power in
The constitution will almost certainly bring dramatic
political changes. Most opposition leaders favor a
constitution that would give Nepal a ceremonial
monarchy, or simply eliminate the royalty completely.
Adam Ereli, a State Department spokesman, called on
the king to relinquish his authority, saying "We
believe that he should now hand power over to the
parties and assume a ceremonial role in his country's
Protests have rocked Katmandu and many other towns for
nearly three weeks, and police have clashed repeatedly
with demonstrators demanding Gyanendra relinquish the
absolute power he seized 14 months ago when he
dismissed an interim government, saying he needed to
bring order to the chaotic political situation and
crush the Maoist insurgency.
The interim government was one of many he had named to
replace the parliament dissolved in 2002.
The protests and general strike have paralyzed the
country, with the capital locked down by repeated
curfews, roads blocked by protesters, and food and
fuel increasingly scarce.
Protests had intensified since Friday, when Gyanendra
offered to let the opposition alliance nominate a
prime minister and form a government. On Saturday, one
march even got within a few blocks of the palace.
Opposition leaders and the Maoists rejected that offer
because it did not include the return of parliament.
Associated Press writers Binaj Gurubacharya and
Matthew Rosenberg contributed to this report.