Fri, May 30, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Nepal celebrates new republic

New EraUN chief Ban Ki-moon welcomed the change, while Washington was cautious as it still views the former Maoist rebels as a terrorist group

AFP , KATHMANDU

A policeman kicks a man as police disperse demonstrators urging King Gyanendra to leave the Narainhiti Palace in Kathmandu, Nepal, yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

Nepal celebrated a new era as the world’s youngest republic yesterday after consigning its centuries-old monarchy to the history books and ordering god-king Gyanendra to quit his palace in two weeks.

In an unprecedented vote capping a peace accord between Maoists and mainstream parties, a new constitutional assembly voted just before midnight on Wednesday to abolish the 240-year-old monarchy and establish a republic.

Yesterday morning, the flag of the Shah dynasty was taken down from the main palace in Kathmandu, which will now be turned into a national museum.

“The royal flag was replaced by Nepal’s national flag inside the palace,” a palace official said on condition of anonymity. “The flag has been changed as part of the government decision to implement a republic.”

The new republic declared yesterday and today national holidays, as supporters sang and danced on Kathmandu’s streets after waiting all day for the vote.

The Maoists, clear winners of last month’s elections, waged a decade of war to overthrow what they view as a backward, caste-ridden structure that kept most of Nepal’s 29 million people living in dire poverty.

They have repeatedly warned King Gyanendra he faces “strong punishment” if he refuses to bow out gracefully.

“The Nepalese people have been freed from centuries of feudal tradition and the doors have now opened for a radical social and economic transformation,” Maoist spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara said after the vote.

The country’s press hailed the republic.

“Turning Nepal into a republic is the biggest achievement of the people in the history of this country,” wrote Kathmandu Post editor Prateek Pradhan in a letter to readers.

Many ordinary Nepalese are delighted to see the back of the dour, unpopular king as well as his son and would-be heir, Crown Prince Paras — notorious for his playboy lifestyle.

“There was no development under the monarchy,” said Prakash Karki, 26, a businessman, as he bought a newspaper. “There will be now that the people will run the country.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the vote, saying Nepalese “have clearly spoken for peace and change.”

The US, which continues to list the former rebels as a foreign “terrorist” organization, urged “forward political developments” in Nepal, US State Department spokesman Tom Casey said in Washington.

The vote in the 601-member assembly saw just four lawmakers oppose the declaration transforming Nepal into a secular republic.

“All the privileges enjoyed by the king and royal family will automatically come to an end,” the declaration states, noting that the day will be known as “Republic Day.”

The ultra-left Maoists won over a third of the seats in the assembly and are set to lead the new government, although many remain skeptical of a movement whose loyalists are regularly accused of using violence and intimidation.

And the ex-rebels face a difficult task improving life for a people weary of civil strife.

“Whenever I go out there’s a bomb blast, a strike or a demonstration. These are the daily worries,” said Seema Pradhan, 25, at her family’s neighborhood shop. “I hope they will be able to make things better.”

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