Nepal Celebrates Cutting of King's Power

By BINAJ GURUBACHARYA
The Associated Press
Friday, May 19, 2006; 11:40 PM

KATMANDU, Nepal -- Cheering Nepalese held rallies in several cities and towns on Friday to celebrate Parliament's vote to dramatically cut King Gyanendra's powers and turn him into a figurehead leader. The government declared the day a public holiday.

Communist rebels who control much of the countryside also welcomed the resolution _ passed unanimously on Thursday _ but said the king's ceremonial role should also be eliminated.

The sweeping resolution called for King Gyanendra to be stripped of his command over the army, his legal immunity, and freedom from paying taxes. It also said the king should lose his official position as head of the Himalayan nation, changing traditional references to "His Majesty's government" to simply the "Nepal government."

In the capital of Katmandu, about 5,000 rallied and traffic was stalled as hundreds more lined up on the route to cheer the rally.

"This ends the remains of the royal regime and establishes the king as only a figurehead," said Narayanman Bijuchche of the Nepal Workers and Peasants Party.

Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the leader of the Maoist rebels, welcomed the resolution, but said a continuing ceremonial role for the king "is against the aspiration of the people to abolish the monarchy and establish a republic."

The parliamentary vote was the most significant move since the new government assumed power last month after weeks of street protests forced Gyanendra to give up direct control of the government, reinstate Parliament and return political authority to elected officials.

The resolution also calls for Nepal _ officially a Hindu nation _ to become a secular state. About 85 percent of Nepal's 27 million people are Hindu.

In Washington, the State Department's top South Asia official encouraged the rebels to honor a cease-fire and join the political mainstream. But Richard Boucher, U.S. assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, said that until the rebels give up all violence, the United States and others "will not be convinced that they have abandoned their stated goal of establishing a one-party, authoritarian state."

© 2006 The Associated Press