(AFP) – May 28, 2008
KATHMANDU (AFP) — Political leaders in Nepal on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly to abolish the Himalayan nation's 240-year-old Hindu monarchy and declare a republic.
In an historic vote that caps a peace deal between Maoist rebels and mainstream parties, a new constitutional assembly ordered unpopular King Gyanendra to quit his palace within 15 days so it can be turned into a museum.
"The sacrifice of thousands of Nepalese has been honoured today by us getting rid of the monarchy," Maoist spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara told AFP.
The abolition is a triumph for the ultra-leftists and marks a fresh start for one of the world's poorest countries, still reeling from a civil war that left at least 13,000 people dead.
"The Nepalese people have been freed from centuries of feudal tradition, and the doors have now opened for a radical social and economic transformation," Mahara said.
Nepal's fiercely-republican Maoists, who fought for 10 years to remove the monarchy and create a secular republic, won the largest single bloc of seats in the assembly in elections last month.
A senior member of the 601-member Constituent Assembly, Kul Bahadur Gurung, said only four lawmakers opposed the move.
The republican declaration states that Nepal will become "an independent, indivisible, sovereign, secular and an inclusive democratic republic."
"All the privileges enjoyed by the king and royal family will automatically come to an end," it says, noting that May 29 will henceforth be celebrated as "Republic Day."
Gyanendra, who ascended the throne after a drunken prince killed most of the royal family in 2001, was given 15 days to pack up and vacate his Kathmandu palace.
"This assembly asks the government to make the necessary arrangements to vacate the Narayanhiti Royal palace," Gurung told the late-night gathering, prompting huge cheers and applause.
"The meeting also directs the government to take necessary actions to turn the palace into a national museum."
Outside the venue, a crowd of about 1,000 people -- who had been waiting impatiently for the vote -- cheered wildly as the decision was announced, an AFP reporter at the scene said.
"I am overjoyed. This is the most important day of my life," said Rajesh Subedi, a 21-year-old student and Maoist supporter.
The former rebels have told Gyanendra and his son and heir, Crown Prince Paras -- loathed for his reported playboy lifestyle -- to bow out gracefully and adapt to life as a "common citizen" or else face "strong punishment."
Nepal's peace minister, Ram Chandra Poudel, told reporters the monarch "should understand and leave the palace by himself, that would be the best thing."
Gyanendra, seen by loyalists as the reincarnation of a Hindu god, was vaulted to the throne after the 2001 massacre of his popular brother Birendra and most of the royal family by a drink-and-drug-fuelled crown prince who later killed himself.
But the dour-faced monarch never managed to win much support from the public, with many Nepalese suspecting he was in some way involved in the palace killings -- even though officials and experts have dismissed such a conspiracy theory.
His ill-fated decision to seize absolute power to fight the Maoist rebellion further damaged his status.
He still enjoys some support from Hindu hardliners and powerful elements in the armed forces and ruling elite, who argue the royals are a crucial symbol of the neutrality of a country wedged between Asian giants India and China.
"No one now has a political basis to try and revive him," said analyst and commentator Prashant Jha.
Many had feared Nepal's radical transformation would give way to more violence, but this week suspected pro-royals only managed to carry out minor bomb attacks that caused a small number of light injuries.
The Maoists are set to lead Nepal's new government, although many are still sceptical of the movement -- whose loyalists are regularly accused of using violence and intimidation.
The United States also continues to list the former rebels as a foreign "terrorist" organisation.
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