Nepal's parliament to meet

King announces reinstatement of body on eve of rally

opponents weigh next move

April 25, 2006|By HENRY CHU | HENRY CHU,LOS ANGELES TIMES

KATMANDU, Nepal -- Threatened with a popular revolt, King Gyanendra announced yesterday the reinstatement of parliament and offered condolences to the families of more than a dozen people killed by police during pro-democracy protests that have paralyzed this country for nearly three weeks.

The embattled monarch said he was acceding to a key demand by the political coalition opposed to his absolute rule. He summoned parliament to convene Friday, which would be its first meeting in nearly four years.

"We call upon the seven-party alliance to bear the responsibility of taking the nation on the path to national unity and prosperity, while ensuring permanent peace and safeguarding multiparty democracy," Gyanendra said in a nationally televised address.

His offer to restore parliament came after 19 consecutive days of sometimes bloody protests that sent hundreds of thousands of Nepalis onto the streets. The announcement late yesterday appeared timed to try to take the steam out of a huge rally planned for this morning here in the capital, which opposition leaders and activists had vowed would be the largest demonstration ever seen in this Himalayan nation.

The opposition alliance is expected to meet today to determine its response to the king's offer, which immediately sparked small street celebrations in Katmandu. One of the parties in the coalition hailed Gyanendra's concession as a positive step.

"I'm happy," said Prakash Mansingh, general secretary of the Nepali Congress Democratic party, adding that today's planned protest, if it goes ahead, would "turn into a victory rally."

But other members of the opposition alliance have in recent days called for ousting the king. Gyanendra's announcement made no specific mention of another key opposition demand, the creation of a special assembly to overhaul the constitution, which could do away with the monarchy.

Beyond the coalition, the king's latest olive branch could run into trouble with two other important constituencies: the general public and the Maoist rebels who have waged a ruthless decade-long insurgency in the countryside.

Despite the small outbreaks of celebration after the speech, explosive anger toward the king has built up among his subjects in recent weeks, especially after security forces acted on royal orders to shoot on sight during the protests, with deadly consequences. Many Nepalis say they will not be satisfied with anything less than a full republic.

As for the Maoists, they have formally thrown their support behind the protest movement but could withdraw it if they view the alliance as selling out.

Still, the scattered jubilant gatherings after last night's brief, three-minute address stood in stark contrast to the derision that greeted the king's offer last Friday to let the seven-party coalition choose a prime minister. His speech was widely rejected as inadequate and offensive, because it praised the security forces but failed to acknowledge those who died at their hands.

Henry Chu writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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