Nepal’s peace architect G.P. Koirala dies at 85 (Third Lead)

March 20th, 2010 - 4:58 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, March 20 (IANS) Alarm and grief swept through Nepal Saturday after former prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala - architect of the peace negotiations that ended a decade of Maoist insurgency - died following fortnight-long respiratory problems. He was 85.
Armed police forces were deployed in the capital and around the residence of Koirala’s daughter, Sujata Koirala, as politicians cutting across party lines, diplomats, civil society leaders and hundreds of grieving followers arrived there to pay their last respects to the man who spent more than six decades in the service of the nation.

Koirala’s former protege and ex-prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba announced Koirala’s passing away to the crowds that had gathered outside his residence after the news spread that he had sunk into a deep coma.

Koirala died at 12.10 p.m., Deuba said, after the Nepali Congress that Koirala headed called an emergency meeting of its central committee members.

Nepal’s Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, who went to Koirala’s residence to pay his last respects, called an emergency meeting of the cabinet to discuss the death and a state funeral for the former prime minister.

Koirala’s body will be kept at the Dasharath Stadium in Kathmandu Sunday morning for thousands of admirers to pay their last tribute. It will be then taken to Aragyaghat, the cremation area at the Pashupatinath temple, for the last rites.

Koirala, hailed by former US president and Nobel Peace Laurate Jimmy Carter as his hero for having brought the Maoist guerrillas to mainstream politics, had been discharged from the Shahid Gangalal Memorial Heart Hospital Wednesday, where he had been admitted after suffering from a low haemoglobin count due to chronic lung problems.

Once a chain smoker, Koirala had asked to be discharged from hospital and to be taken to the residence of his daughter, Deputy Prime Minister Sujata Koirala, rejecting the recommendation by doctors to be flown abroad for treatment.

In the recent past, he had been admitted to hospitals in New Delhi, Thailand and Singapore.

Koirala, who began his career as a trade union leader from a jute mill in Biratnagar town in southeastern Nepal, was exiled to India for taking part in a pro-democracy movement opposing the absolute rule of Nepal’s hereditary Rana prime ministers.

He was also jailed by King Mahendra for opposing the absolute rule of the Shah dynasty of kings.

Hailing from a family that saw three brothers become prime ministers, Koirala himself ruled Nepal as prime minister five times.

Though his leadership was marred by feuds within the party that saw it split and stoked the Maoist insurgency due to rising corruption, Koirala is respected for his unflagging opposition to king Gyanedra’s attempt to rule Nepal with the help of the army.

He is also regarded as an unwavering friend of India though his exile in India became controversial after his admission that he had been involved in counterfeiting Indian currency to raise funds for the pro-democracy struggle.

His leadership saw Nepal become secular from a Hindu kingdom and hold a historic election to choose a constituent assembly that is writing a new pro-people constitution.

The government of Nepal had decided to nominate Koirala for the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in signing a peace pact between the Maoists and the major parties.

The passing away of the octogenarian leader could deal a grave blow to Nepal’s peace process that is to culminate in a new constitution in May. In Koirala’s absence, there may be no other leader of his stature who can hold the bickering parties together.

The Nepali Congress also faces an internal war of succession. Koirala, who kept an iron grip on the party, had indicated he wanted his mantle to fall on his daughter.

However, her bid to lead the party is likely to be opposed by Deuba, who had split the Nepali Congress in the past after a leadership tussle.

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