Nepal parliament opens with republic debate

Nepal opened the first session of a newly elected parliament today with a resolution to abolish the monarchy and declare 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 Kathmandu.

Across Kathmandu, 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 centre 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 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 stand-off, the assembly will give the king 15 days to vacate the palace after the republic is declared, said Bimalendra Nidhi of the centrist Nepali Congress, the second largest party in the assembly.

He spoke 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.

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 Kathmandu this week. 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 emphasised 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 Kathmandu to head off more violence and banned rallies around the palace and the convention centre.

If Gyanendra peacefully leaves the palace, he is expected to move to the palatial private Kathmandu 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.

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