Nepal declared republic at near midnight(Lead)

May 29th, 2008 - 1:40 am ICT by admin  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, May 29 (IANS) The former Himalayan kingdom of Nepal entered a new epoch at near-midnight Wednesday with its newly elected constituent assembly voting overwhelmingly in favour of a motion to end the nation’s 239-year-old monarchy and transform it into a federal, democratic secular republic. Of the 564 members present at the first historic meeting of the assembly, only four voted against the proposal to strip embattled King Gyanendra of his title and few remaining vestiges of power and ask him to vacate the royal palace within 15 days.

Along with the king, all other members of the royal family have now been stripped of their titles, privileges and responsibilities, becoming ordinary citizens of the country.

The assembly also ordered the government to turn the Narayanhity royal palace - the seat of Nepal kings for generations - into a national museum and use it for the benefit of the nation.

The king’s place as head of state will be assumed by a constitutional president, who is to be elected by the constituent assembly.

The president will also be the official head of the army, as the king had been, and like him, would have the power to declare a state of emergency or revoke it on the advice of the council of ministers.

May 28 will be celebrated as Republic Day every year.

Immediately after the much-awaited proclamation, fireworks started and lamps began to be lit to celebrate the end of the country’s 239-year-old dynasty of Shah kings, who were held responsible for the miseries of the people for centuries.

Defying the late hour and the ban on rallies, thousands of people poured out onto the streets, clapping, singing and dancing in joy.

While some waved the flags of the ruling parties, some waved banners that hailed the dawn of a new republic and new era.

The proclamation, scheduled to have been made at 11 a.m., came almost 12 hours late as the ruling parties were unable to reach a consensus on several major issues despite repeated rounds of negotiations.

The disagreements prevented the assembly from getting full shape as the parties could not nominate the additional 26 members.

However, constitutional expert Daman Nath Dhungana said the nominations could be made later and would not create a constitutional hurdle.

The long delay over the proclamation of a republic saw tension building up in the capital with three bombs going off in crowded public places.

A bomb went off in a park in the capital, injuring a woman, while two more exploded in the vicinity of the Birendra International Convention Centre where the constituent assembly held its first meeting.

Om Bikram Rana, chief of Nepal Police, said a man had been arrested in connection with the bombs and was under investigation.

Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, whose tenure is coming to an end, made an emotional address to the assembly, saying it was an epoch-making day that had been his own dream as well as the dream of the nation.

The lone voice of dissent against the abolition of monarchy came from the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal, whose representative Kul Bahadur Gurung urged the assembly to remember the contribution made by the royal dynasty for uniting Nepal and not to take such a serious decision in a hurry.

From late Wednesday night, His Majesty Sri Panch Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah becomes plain Gyanendra Shah, shorn of his titles and privileges.

The last king of the dynasty brought his own downfall by trying to seize absolute power with an army-backed coup in 2005 and rule the country with an iron hand.

A national uprising in 2006 ended his 14-month rule and began unravelling his power and clout.

In 2007, the Maoists, who had fought a 10-year war to overthrow monarchy, finally succeeded in making the interim parliament declare Nepal a republic with the proviso that the implementation would be done after the constituent assembly election.

Though the election last month saw the nation give the thumbs-down to the unpopular king and welcome his foes, the Maoists, there were misgivings that the cornered monarch would cut a crafty deal at the last minute and avert his doom.

With Wednesday’s official declaration, the Maoists finally have their way and monarchy becomes a thing of the past in the world’s newest republic.

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