(AFP) – May 27, 2008
KATHMANDU (AFP) — A newly elected and Maoist-dominated assembly that will rewrite Nepal's constitution was sworn in Tuesday, setting the stage for the imminent abolition of the Himalayan nation's monarchy.
Political leaders said the assembly will dissolve the monarchy and sack the unpopular King Gyanendra, who ascended to the throne seven years ago after a palace massacre, when it holds its first session on Wednesday.
"This is an epoch-making day," Maoist leader Prachanda, who is slated to head the country's next government, told reporters before entering the conference centre to be sworn in.
The Maoists, who waged a decade-long armed struggle before signing a peace deal in 2006, won more than a third of the constituent assembly's 601 seats in elections in April.
"For the past 50 years people have been fighting for this," said Prachanda. "From tomorrow, the institution of the monarchy will formally come to an end."
Minutes after the swearing-in ceremony, the king was seen leaving the palace in a small convoy of three vehicles. The king was driving himself and Queen Komal in a black Mercedes sedan, an AFP reporter at the palace gates said.
The palace press secretariat said it did not know where the king was going, or if he was leaving for good -- in line with Maoist demands he vacate the palace and bow out gracefully.
Kathmandu has been tense, and Tuesday saw another small bombing that wounded two people in a park in the centre of the city.
"We believe that this blast may have been carried out by anti-republican elements in an effort to create panic," police officer Dipendra Chand said.
Security was already tightened in the city after several bombs went off on Monday.
A previously unknown Hindu extremist group claimed responsibility for two blasts outside the building where the Constituent Assembly is to declare an end to Nepal's 240-year-old Shah dynasty.
A third bomb was thrown at the house of a prominent pro-republican rights campaigner, but none of the blasts caused any injuries.
Police on Tuesday ringed the constitutional assembly's complex and banned protests around the palace, a possible magnet for Maoist activists eager to get their hands on the king or his unpopular heir, Crown Prince Paras.
The Maoists have brought thousands of their feared youth members, who are accused of extorting money and beating up rivals, to celebrate the end of the king's reign.
Gyanendra was crowned following the 2001 killing of his popular brother Birendra and most of the royal family by a drink-and-drug-fuelled crown prince who later killed himself.
Although seen by loyalists as the reincarnation of a Hindu god, he remained at the centre of conspiracy theories linking him to the killings.
He also sparked widespread protests when he assumed dictatorial powers to fight the Maoist revolt, an ill-judged move that led to him being pushed aside.
The king has since kept a low profile and has been stripped of most of his powers.
After abolishing the monarchy and declaring landlocked Nepal a federal democratic republic, the lawmakers are due to draft a new constitution -- the next step in the peace process after the civil war, which killed 13,000 people.
The Maoists waged a bloody decade-long revolt to topple the monarchy and install a communist republic but now say they have embraced multi-party democracy.
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