Nepal assembly debates abolishing monarchy

Lawmakers open first session of newly elected assembly, gives king 15 days to vacate palace; string of small bombings hit Katmandu.

nepal celebrate 224 88  (photo credit: AP)
nepal celebrate 224 88
(photo credit: AP)
Nepal's lawmakers opened the first session of a newly elected assembly Wednesday, discussing a resolution to abolish the monarchy and declare the Himalayan nation a republic, ending 239 years of royal rule. Political leaders, led by former communist rebels, have said that once the resolution under discussion is passed the king will have 15 days to leave his pink 1970s-era concrete palace in central Katmandu. Across Katmandu, young men marched with red flags as Nepalis young and old celebrated what many see as the culmination of a two-year peace process with the rebels that began after weeks of unrest forced King Gyanendra to restore democracy. Near the convention center where the Constituent Assembly was meeting, thousands chanted "Long Live the Republic!" and denounced Gyanendra. While the celebrations were largely joyous and peaceful, police at one point used tear gas to disperse a crowd that gathered too close to the building. There has been no reaction from the palace on the resolution under discussion. The palace has rarely commented on political developments in Nepal since Gyanendra was forced to end his royal dictatorship. The country's leading politicians have in recent days threatened to forcibly remove him from his palace if he refuses to go peacefully. But in an apparent bid to defuse the potential standoff, the assembly will give the king 15 days to vacate the palace in central Katmandu after the republic is declared, said Bimalendra Nidhi of the centrist Nepali Congress, the second largest party in the assembly. Nidhi made the comments after his party met with the Maoists - former insurgents - who hold the most seats in the assembly and are expected to lead the country's new government. The Maoists gave up their 10-year fight for a communist Nepal not long after, and the election of the assembly in April marked the culmination of the peace process with the former insurgents. The assembly is charged with governing Nepal while it rewrites the constitution. On Tuesday, 575 of its members were sworn in. Another 26 members are still to be appointed, and last-minute talks among the political parties on filling those seats and how much power the newly created presidency would have - and who should fill the job - forced the assembly to postpone its first meeting until Wednesday evening. The political parties have long made it clear that their first act will be to declare Nepal a republic and do away with the 239-year-old Shah dynasty. But getting rid of the monarchy is in many ways the least of the new government's problems, as evidenced by a string of small bombings that hit Katmandu this week, including two Wednesday. All the bombs - none of which have caused any serious injuries or deaths - appeared to be aimed at pro-republic politicians and activists. While the four bombings only wounded two people, they underscored how difficult it will be to fashion lasting peace and bring widespread prosperity to the Himalayan land that was bled for a decade by the Maoist insurgency and is still regularly bloodied by political violence. Authorities deployed 10,000 policemen in Katmandu to head off more violence and banned rallies around the palace and the convention center. The Maoists, meanwhile, say 20,000 volunteers from their youth wing are in Katmandu to help control the celebrations. But that hasn't eased fears of violence because the young Maoists regularly are accused of intimidating, roughing up and sometimes killing opponents. The Maoists have promised to bring sweeping change to Nepal, which in many places more closely resembles medieval Europe than a modern nation. But once Nepal has been declared a republic no one is certain what will happen. If Gyanendra peacefully leaves the palace, he is expected to move to the palatial private Katmandu home where he lived before assuming the throne in 2001. He ascended to the throne following a massacre at the palace in which a gunman, allegedly the crown prince, gunned down King Birendra and much of the royal family before killing himself.