Nepal’s last king bows out of palace (Night Lead)

June 12th, 2008 - 12:10 am ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, June 11 (IANS) Amidst jubilation from hundreds of people who lined up before the Narayanhity royal palace to witness the final exit of deposed monarch Gyanendra, the last king of Nepal bowed out of the palace, handing it over to the state along with his crown, sceptre and throne. The 61-year-old, who entered the palace as king in 2001 following the assassination of his brother Birendra, made his exit as a commoner Wednesday night, using the west gate instead of the main one in the south.

There was unprecedented chaos as the former king’s black Mercedes rolled out of the palace, bearing him and former queen Komal.

Photographers and journalists stampeded and blocked the way while television crew tried to thrust their microphones at Gyanendra, firing off queries.

The tight cordon of armed police force personnel had to push the crowd to one side to enable the car to speed away to Nagarjuna forest, northwest of Kathmandu, where the former king will move into the smaller summer mansion of the dynasty.

While onlookers whistled and raised slogans in favour of a republic, a small group of diehard royalists braved the wrath of the crowd and expressed support for monarchy, saying the crown was essential to save the country.

Before he left the palace forever, Gyanendra spiritedly defended himself, calling an unprecedented press conference inside a palace hall and saying he had no hand in his brother Birendra’s assassination.

Scores shoved and jostled one another to gain admission to the Kaski Hall where, watched impassively by two huge mounted tigers and a rhino head, the former king read out a statement, defending his takeover of the government in 2005 and warning that the country was in an “extremely critical state”.

The last king of the Shah dynasty, which had ruled Nepal for 239 years, said the crown had been a partner of the nation through good days and bad days and would remain devoted to the cause of a sovereign, democratic and peaceful Nepal in future.

While declaring that he had accepted the verdict of the April election to abolish monarchy without fuss, the dethroned king said he had seized power in 2005 in accordance with the constitution as there was no other way to ensure peace and development of democracy.

“I had no other motive,” Gyanendra said.

Admitting that his attempt had failed due to “various reasons”, the former king said that before his departure, he was speaking out with god as his witness to defend himself against the slurs that had haunted him since 2001, when he ascended the throne following the assassination of his brother King Birendra.

“I was forced to wear the crown as an uncomprehending child,” Gyanendra said, referring to the turmoil in 1950 when his grandfather, the then King Tribhuvan, and father crown prince Mahendra fled to India fearing for their lives under the all-powerful prime minister Mihan Shumsher Jung Bahadur Rana.

Though the fugitives took away his elder brother Birendra with them to safety, they left the three-year-old Gyanendra at the mercy of Rana, who, however, spared the child’s life and crowned him king.

“Neither did I desire nor wish for the crown nor had any role (in the turn of events),” the ill-fated former king said.

Gyanendra said he became king a second time in 2001 when his brother and his wife were killed and he had to once again assume the heavy role without even “being given time to shed tears and lessen the load on my heart”.

During his reign, he said he was relentlessly vilified by “various quarters” who pursued a war strategy against him and accused him of having engineered the palace massacre in which 10 royals died.

“My wife still bears shrapnel from the shooting,” he said.

Gyanendra also repudiated reports that he had stashed away money in foreign countries.

“My entire property is in Nepal. I have no moveable or unmoveable assets abroad.”

He said he had invested the property he had inherited through institutions to protect them as per the law of the land. “I too have the right to own property,” he said.

Rebutting reports that he had transferred the land and mansions of his nieces in the name of his daughter, the former king said: “In these seven years, I have not acquired any property nor usurped the property of any other royal members. Neither I nor my family have harmed any Nepali or trampled anyone’s rights.”

He reiterated that he would stay on in his “own motherland” and “work for greater welfare and peace”.

“I have handed over the crown, sceptre and throne to the government,” Gyanendra said.

In a touch of grace, the former monarch expressed his gratitude to all those who had supported him, ranging from constitutional bodies and religious organisations to peasants and workers.

The crowd hooted him and later, when he tried to interact with journalists, made a lunge towards him, causing agile palace officials to quickly surround the former king and rush him to a safe place.

There is speculation that the former king could float a political party.

Prachanda, chief of the Maoist party that brought on the downfall of the royal dynasty, has said that there would be no objection to the former king contesting elections.

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