Sat, Aug 25, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Nepalese government to nationalize royal palace

AP , KATHMANDU

Nepal's government has nationalized the Kathmandu palace where the king and his family live, the latest in a series of steps that have undercut the power and dismantled the royal trappings of the world's last Hindu monarchy.

The royal family will be allowed to live in Narayanhity Royal Palace -- the site of the 2001 massacre that left nine royals dead and brought King Gyanendra to power -- until a special assembly is elected and decides whether to keep the monarchy, Labor Minister Ramesh Lekhak said on Thursday.

The election, now scheduled for November, has been repeatedly delayed.

But for now, the message is clear -- the interim government is running the country, not the king.

The downtown Kathmandu palace, an ungainly sprawl of glass, steel and cement that is covered in a coat of peach-colored paint, remains one of the main symbols of Gyanendra's turbulent reign.

Another six historic palaces were also seized by the government on Thursday and will be handed over to the state's archeology department, Lekhak said.

Gyanendra assumed the throne in 2001 after the palace massacre, in which the crown prince apparently gunned down his older brother, the late King Birendra, and much of his family -- and then killed himself.

Four years later Gyanendra seized absolute power, saying he would bring order to a chaotic political scene and quell a communist insurgency that killed nearly 13,000 people in the past decade.

But the insurgency worsened, the economy faltered, and Gyanendra's heavy-handed tactics helped forge an alliance between the usurped political elite and communists. By April of last year, widespread discontent erupted into mass protests that forced Gyanendra to cede power.

Gyanendra was soon after stripped of all his power by an interim parliament, which is governing the country until the special assembly is elected, to write a new constitution and decide what role, if any, the monarchy should play in Nepal.

While the political parties and communists, who are now part of the government, hammer out the details of how the special assembly should be elected, a government committee has been trying to catalog the king's property and assets -- which are said to be substantial and well-hidden. The plan is to nationalize whatever can be found, Lekhak said.

To diminish the royal family's grandeur, last month, the government cut off the king's annual allowance of 2.7 million Nepal rupees (US$500,000).

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