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  Nepal Names New King

The Associated Press
Monday, June 4, 2001; 1:06 a.m. EDT

KATMANDU, Nepal –– Prince Gyanendra was named as Nepal's new king on Monday, three days after his nephew allegedly killed most of the royal family, then turned a gun on himself.

The State Council, which deals with royal affairs, met in the morning and proclaimed Gyanendra, who had been acting king, as the new monarch of this beautiful but poor Himalayan nation still stunned from the killings.

The council confirmed that King Dipendra, the former crown prince whom officials privately blame for shooting his parents – the king and queen – and other members of the family before turning a gun on himself Friday, had died early Monday.

Dipendra had reportedly been hospitalized on a life support system since the shots rang out in the royal palace, and a State Council member told The Associated Press earlier Monday that he had died. The State Council member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not say whether the life support had been withdrawn before the 29-year-old Dipendra had died.

After meeting, the 125-member State Council, or Raj Parishad, issued a statement confirming a new king was named after Dipendra died at 3:45 a.m.

"The next in succession to the throne, Prince Gyanendra, has been declared his majesty, the king of the kingdom of Nepal," the State Council said.

A funeral for the late King Dipendra was expected later in the day.

At the Hanumandhoka Palace, where a coronation ceremony was to take place, police had set up tight security.

After the shootings, Gyanendra was named regent, or acting king. Many citizens had said they could not accept Dipendra as king, because he was blamed for shooting the beloved King Birendra – whom many Nepalese regard as an incarnation of the Hindu deity, Lord Vishnu.

The palace shootings were alleged to have resulted from an argument in which his mother, the queen, had rejected Dipendra's choice of a bride.

The new king's coronation might help put Nepal on a path of recovery from its national nightmare, which still has not been explained to the satisfaction of many people here.

Gyanendra had issued a statement Sunday that confused matters more by saying the royal killings were the result of "accidental" automatic weapons fire at the palace.

Many Nepalese called that explanation preposterous.

Previously, senior military sources inside the royal palace and government officials told the AP that Dipendra had been the gunman. Publicly, the royal family and government have distanced themselves from that explanation, perhaps because even though Dipendra was unconscious he was technically the king in Nepal and monarchs are above reproach.

The interior minister was widely quoted Saturday as saying Dipendra shot his family and then himself, but he later retracted his comments.

On Sunday, hundreds of people burned tires in the center of Katmandu, the capital, demanding to know the truth behind the killings. Many city residents shaved their heads – a Hindu sign of respect that typically follows a father's death.

Senior government and palace officials privately disputed the acting king's version of events, reiterating that Dipendra had killed his parents and six other relatives during a family dinner before turning the weapon on himself. Three other members of the royal family were injured.

The victims included King Birendra, 55, Queen Aiswarya, 51, his brother and sister, Prince Nirajan, 22, and Princess Shruti, 24.

The shots rang out while the royal family was gathered for dinner Friday night to discuss the wedding of Dipendra. Sources close to the family said the prince wished to marry the daughter of a former government minister who is a member of the aristocratic Rana family, which ruled Nepal until 1951. His mother reportedly had rejected his choice of bride.

On the streets of Katmandu on Sunday, the public doubted that the acting King's explanation that the killings had been accidental.

"How can a gun go off and shoot a dozen people in all different directions?" asked Dhan Gurung, a rickshaw driver. "This is ridiculous."

"I've been in the army, and I know," agreed Bal Bahadur Tamang, a retiree out shopping. "There is no such thing as a freak accident like this. Accidents can claim one life, but not spray bullets over eight people."

Monarchs here have little formal power in Nepal, but public criticism is taboo. The constitution says: "No question shall be raised in any court about any act performed by his majesty," and even the Parliament is prohibited from discussing the affairs of the royal family.

Birendra was remembered Sunday as a monarch who had used his influence to improve things for this highly impoverished, predominantly Hindu nation which only opened to the outside world a half-century ago.

© Copyright 2001 The Associated Press

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