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Royal flag lowered as Nepal celebrates its republic

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20080529/wl_nm/nepal_republic_dc;_ylt=AokiA0AExFcuWnZr9dnWd6Ws0NUE Royal flag lowered as Nepal celebrates its republic By Gopal
    Message 1 of 1 , May 29, 2008
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      http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20080529/wl_nm/nepal_republic_dc;_ylt=AokiA0AExFcuWnZr9dnWd6Ws0NUE

      Royal flag lowered as Nepal celebrates its republic

      By Gopal Sharma 43 minutes ago

      KATHMANDU (Reuters) - The royal flag was lowered from
      Nepal's royal place on Thursday as the Himalayan
      nation celebrated its first day as a republic
      following the abolition of its 239-year-old Hindu
      monarchy.

      A special assembly elected in April consigned the once
      revered institution to history and gave the ousted
      King Gyanendra a fortnight to vacate the sprawling
      pink palace in Kathmandu. His palace will be turned
      into a museum.

      That vote was a key condition of a 2006 peace deal
      with the Maoist former rebels who ended their
      decade-long civil war and joined mainstream politics.

      "Vive la Republique," read a banner headline in the
      Kathmandu Post.

      "A hope is born," said the Himalayan Times daily.

      Authorities said the national flag will be raised in
      place of the royal standard.

      About 500 people shouting "This is the people's
      victory" marched in celebration of the new republic.

      "I feel really honored," said 27-year-old university
      student Dev Raj Bhatta standing in sweltering heat
      outside the palace gate earlier on Thursday.

      "The end of the monarchy has made me a proud Nepali
      citizen."

      Police baton-charged other protesters after some
      scaled the main iron gate of the palace carrying the
      national flag. They were demanding that the government
      raise the Nepali flag at the palace and force
      Gyanendra out immediately.

      "Gyanendra, thief, leave the palace!" protesters
      shouted.

      The U.S. government, which still classifies the
      Maoists as a terrorist organization, gave its support
      to the new republic.

      "This is another exciting milestone in Nepal's
      democratic development," a U.S. embassy statement
      said.

      WHAT NOW?

      But challenges remain.

      The Maoists, who won 220 seats in last month's
      elections to the 601-member assembly, are expected to
      head the new government. But they must fulfill
      tremendous expectations in one of the world's poorest
      countries.

      Thousands of ex-Maoist fighters are still confined to
      camps. Maoists insist they must be integrated into the
      military. The army, traditionally seen as having
      royalist sympathies, has so far refused to allow them
      into their ranks.

      During their election campaign the Maoists promised
      land to landless farmers in a country where more than
      80 percent of its 26 million live on farms and jobs to
      the unemployed youth.

      "There is now a big challenge for the Maoists both to
      prove their democratic credentials and to deliver on
      the mandate for the change," said Rhoderick Chalmers,
      Nepal head of the Brussels-based International Crisis
      Group.

      Economic growth was just 2.3 percent in the year to
      July 2007 compared with 3.1 percent the year before.

      Although tourists, a key source of income, have
      started to return after the end of war, businesses are
      yet to rebound. The economy is hugely dependent on
      foreign aid and remittances from Nepalis aboard.

      "The new government must revive industries, end
      frequent labor strikes and resolve the acute problem
      of fuel as well as power supply to revive growth," one
      Asian diplomat said.

      "This is a real challenge."

      For now, on the streets of Kathmandu the mood was
      jubilant.

      "I am very happy that we are a republic now," said
      Rupesh Ranjitkar, 25.

      "There will be peace now. I don't think anyone will
      miss the king or shed any tears."

      (Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Valerie Lee)
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