Sacked Nepal king gets a roof over his head (Lead)

June 4th, 2008 - 4:47 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, June 4 (IANS) Stripped of his crown and asked to leave the palace by next week, Nepal’s deposed king Gyanendra had fortune smile on him for the first time since the fall of his government, with the ruling parties, including the Maoists, agreeing to let him move into another old palace. The council of ministers Wednesday decided that the former king would be allowed to stay as a commoner in the summer residence of the former royal family, the Nagarjuna palace, located amid forested hills about eight kilometres northwest of the capital, till he found suitable accommodation.

The cabinet also said it would look after the security of the former royal family and appoint members of the Armed Police Force.

The army had traditionally been entrusted with the security of the royal family. Even now, there are about 2,000 soldiers deployed in the Narayanhity.

The cabinet decision paves the way for the royal family’s final exit from the Narayanhity palace, once the abode of Nepal’s Shah dynasty of kings and the seat of power. It is to be turned into a national museum.

The Maoists, who had waged a 10-year armed struggle to overthrow monarchy, agreed to let the former royal family move into the luxurious villa.

However, a minor communist party that is a partner in the ruling alliance registered its opposition.

Health Minister Giriraj Mani Pokhrel, who is from the People’s Front Nepal party, walked out of the cabinet meeting in a huff, saying he was opposed to allowing any privilege to the former king after the newly elected constituent assembly had formally proclaimed Nepal a republic last week.

Though the king-turned-commoner had asked that his 80-year-old stepmother, who lived in the Narayanhity royal palace through the reign of four kings, should be allowed to spend her last days there, that request is likely to have been turned down.

On Monday, when Koirala sent Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula to the besieged palace to open a dialogue with Gyanendra in a bid to ensure his safe exit, the former king had said he accepted the decision of the newly elected lawmakers to abolish monarchy and would vacate the palace within the June 12 deadline given by them.

However, he had urged the government to help him find a suitable residence and also to allow his stepmother Ratna Shah to remain in Mahendra Manzil, the building in the Narayanhity to which she has an emotional attachment, saying it is steeped in the memory of her husband, the late king Mahendra.

The former queen mum entered the palace as the bride of the then crown prince Mahendra with his father Tribhuvan reigning as king.

She lived there as the queen of Mahendra and later as the queen mother — after her stepson Birendra became the king following his father’s death. Then, after Birendra’s assassination, Gyanendra succeeded him.

Ratna had been acknowledged as one of the most powerful women in Nepal when it was a kingdom.

Till the fall of King Gyanendra’s government in 2006, Nepal had been celebrating the queen mother’s birthday as Children’s Day.

The custom ended in 2007 after the king’s direct rule ended a year ago and the new government began divesting him of his power and privileges.

Ratna is also one of the few survivors of the infamous palace massacre in 2001 in which Birendra and nine more members of the royal family died.

She survived as she had left the hall where the family was having a banquet before the shooting started, allegedly by Birendra’s son Dipendra.

The Nagarjuna palace was taken over by the government last year along with six more palaces, including the Narayanhity.

Earlier, Peace and Reconstruction Minister Ram Chandra Poudel indicated that the government would be sympathetic if the former king requested to live in any other palace than Narayanhity.

“After such a huge achievement (of republic) it would be churlish to bicker on trivial matters,” Poudel had said.

Although Gyanendra lived in his private residence Nirmal Niwas before he became king in 2001, he had told the government that it would be difficult for him to return there since his son Paras and his family were living there.

When the last king of Nepal exits the palace, he will be accompanied by his wife Komal, stepmother and a 91-year-old woman, Sarala Tamang, said to have been the concubine of his grandfather Tribhuvan.

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