Wed, Jan 17, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Nepali Maoists join new parliament

`PEOPLE'S WAR' Under a temporary constitution that also strips the king of his status as head of state, 83 Maoist members of parliament were sworn in to the 330-seat house

AFP , KATHMANDU

Nepal declared a national holiday yesterday to celebrate the historic entry of former Maoist guerrillas into the political mainstream after a decade of bloody civil war.

The Maoists formally joined a new parliament late on Monday after a new temporary constitution was approved that also strips the king of his status as head of state, including control of the army.

The king also lost a "major chunk" of royal assets after parliament's unanimous vote in favor of the constitution, the Kathmandu Post reported.

"Today the people have turned the tables on the monarchy: By proclaiming a constitution invoking their sovereign rights, the people have made the reigning monarch both poor and powerless overnight," the English-language daily said.

Eighty-three Maoist members of parliament were sworn in late on Monday to the 330-seat house nearly nine months after the Maoists and the government struck a ceasefire deal.

At least 12,500 people have been killed since the rebels launched their "people's war" in 1996 to install a communist republic, a conflict that also laid waste to the impoverished Himalayan nation's already fragile economy.

Nepal's previous parliament was dissolved late on Monday, a body that King Gyanendra restored after weeks of bloody mass protests forced him to abandon direct rule in April last year.

"Today is a day of reconciliation among all the political parties and the people," Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala said in parliament.

The former rebels were equally upbeat about being given a quarter of the seats.

"This is a historic chance for us and other political parties to establish progress in Nepal," said Maoist spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara, leader of the newly sworn in MPs.

Maoist chief Prachanda and his second-in-command were present on Monday night in parliament to see their comrades sworn in, but neither leader is planning to take a position in the new legislature.

In return for the seats, the former rebels have agreed to place their weapons and army under UN supervision. The Maoists were expected to begin registering weapons with UN monitors later this week.

Meanwhile, thousands of civil servants have fanned out across Nepal to issue citizenship papers to millions of Nepalis to allow them to vote in elections due to be held before June, a minister told reporters.

"580 mobile teams of between seven to 10 people have been dispatched to certify and distribute citizenship identification," said Hridayesh Tripathi, minister for industry, commerce and supplies.

The interim constitution, which was approved on Monday, sets out a plan to hold elections to a constituent assembly that will rewrite Nepal's constitution permanently, and decide the fate of the monarchy, a key Maoist demand.

"According to government records there are over 3 million Nepalis who do not have citizenship, and we hope to distribute all citizenship identifications before holding constituent assembly elections," Tripathi said.

Nepal's population is around 27 million, with some 15.3 million eligible to vote, according to election commission figures.

The last general elections in Nepal were held in 1998.

In 2002, the king sacked the prime minister and replaced him with a series of royally-appointed premiers. He sacked the whole government in February 2005 and took direct control, saying politicians had failed to defeat the Maoists.

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