June 11, 2008

Article at Reuters

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Deposed king quits palace but vows to stay in Nepal

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Resigned to his fate, Nepal’s deposed King Gyanendra left his pink pagoda-roofed palace for the last time on Wednesday, but vowed to stay in the country and work for its people.

Nepal's deposed King Gyanendra bids goodbye to the media at the end of a news conference at the Narayanhiti royal palace in Kathmandu June 11, 2008. REUTERS/Shruti Shrestha

He swept out of the sprawling Narayanhiti complex in the heart of the capital in a black limousine, driving behind an armed police pick-up, past thousands of onlookers and hundreds of riot police.

A few dozen people urged him on his way with chants like “Gyane, thief, leave the country”, using an insulting diminutive of his name, cheering and dancing as he drove away.

Three hours earlier, the former monarch had calmly addressed his first-ever press conference, expressing his desire not to go into exile.

“I would like to live in my Motherland and contribute in whatever way possible to the greater good of the country and peace in this land,” he said.

A specially elected assembly voted overwhelmingly to abolish the 239-year-old monarchy two weeks ago and ordered Gyanendra out of his palace and into an old royal hunting lodge just outside the capital.

But Gyanendra will be allowed to continue his business interests, and is believed to have a substantial fortune in tea, tobacco and casinos.

At the press conference, he had seemed composed and often smiled. With the tips of his fingers pressed together, he said he accepted the assembly’s verdict and had already handed over the diamond- and ruby-studded crown and a ceremonial scepter.

The 60-year-old former monarch, whose seizure of absolute power in 2005 led to street protests and ultimately his downfall, expressed some regret for his actions but made no formal apology.

“On behalf of my family members and myself, I would like to express my sorrow, if anybody has been inadvertently hurt by actions of my own or the members of my family,” he said, talking before a crush of unruly journalists jostling for a view.

Abolishing the monarchy was a key condition of a 2006 peace deal with Maoist rebels, who fought a decade-long civil war in which more than 13,000 people were killed.

Dressed in a white, red and black Nepali cap, a black jacket and waistcoast and wearing red spectacles, Gyanendra spoke in a hall just inside the palace, two stuffed tigers behind him, either side of a sweeping double staircase.

On the wall, two mounted rhino heads flanked a stained glass window showing a peacock. Above him hung a crystal chandelier.

He spoke at length of the tragic massacre in 2001 of his brother, King Birendra, and many of his close relatives -- killed by Crown Prince Dipendra, who then turned the gun on himself.

“I could not express through words my internal pain when I was compelled and tied up by the chains of tradition and duty, without being even able to shed tears over the mortal remains of those respected and beloved family members,” he said.

Gyanendra said he had never sought the crown and said accusations by some that he was complicit in the massacre were “very painful to us and are still so”.

Indeed his wife, the former Queen Komal, still bears bullet fragments in her body, he said, adding that the accusations, at a time when the Royal Family was overwhelmed with grief, seemed deliberately aimed at damaging its image and spreading ill-will.

He also denied having property outside the country or of using his office to enrich himself.

Gyanendra took no questions, asking for the blessing of Lord Pashupatinath, the Hindu god of destruction, and ending with a traditional “Jaya Nepal” or “Hail Nepal”, before walking off into a green-walled side-room.

Shortly afterwards, around 300 royalists gathered at a side gate of the palace to shout anti-government slogans and demand Gyanendra not be forced to leave.

Gyanendra is moving to a complex of about a dozen tin-roofed concrete houses and huts set on a jungle-clad hillside just outside the city until he finds a more permanent home.

Known as the Nagarjun palace, its luxuries are nothing compared to the main palace in Kathmandu.

Earlier, more than 100 people had gathered outside the venue of the constituent assembly meeting to demand Gyanendra not be allowed to live even there.

“Give alms, not palace, to the beggar,” some protest placards read.

“He is allowed to move from one palace to another. This is not good,” said Shambhu Kandel, a farmer. “He is rich and can make arrangements for his own stay.”

The world’s newest republic now faces arguably even more formidable challenges than simply removing its monarchy, like getting the Maoists to destroy their weapons, restarting a moribund economy, battling corruption and restoring the rule of law.

First, political parties have to agree on who should be Nepal’s new president and prime minister, and then get down to the complex job of drawing up a new constitution.