Thursday, May 29, 2008

Royal Flag Comes Down at Nepal Palace

Via AP -

KATHMANDU (AFP) — The royal flag was taken down from Nepal's royal palace Thursday as the Himalayan nation celebrated a vote consigning its centuries-old monarchy to the history books and declaring a republic.

The country was marking late Wednesday's decision by a Maoist-dominated constitutional assembly with a two-day public holiday, and King Gyanendra -- facing a two-week deadline to leave -- was said to be packing his bags.

"The royal flag was replaced by Nepal's national flag inside the palace," a palace source said. "The flag has been changed as part of the government decision to implement a republic."

In a landmark vote capping a peace accord between the Maoists and mainstream parties, lawmakers voted just before midnight on Wednesday to abolish the 240-year-old Hindu monarchy and establish a secular republic.

It also ordered that the main palace in Kathmandu be turned into a museum.

Nepal's army, long seen as a bastion of royal support, said it will respect the verdict of the assembly.

And according to prominent royal watcher Kishore Shrestha, the editor of the Nepali-language weekly newspaper Jana Aastha, the king was packing up and could move to a royal lodge on the outskirts of Kathmandu on Friday.

Some revellers tried to celebrate near the palace, but were beaten back by police who have kept the area sealed off for several days. At least five people, including one police officer, were injured in the skirmishes.

The Maoists, clear winners of last month's elections to the constitutional assembly, waged a decade of war to overthrow what they view as a backward, caste-ridden structure that kept most of Nepal's 29 million people living in dire poverty.

They have repeatedly warned Gyanendra he faces "strong punishment" if he refuses to bow out gracefully.

"It's a great day for Nepal," said Damodar Mainali, 20, a Kathmandu resident celebrating the radical change for the impoverished country. "The new Nepal belongs to people like me."
Maoist spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara said Nepal was now free of "feudal tradition," and promised "a radical social and economic transformation."

Many ordinary Nepalese are delighted to see the back of the dour, unpopular king as well as his son and would-be heir, Paras -- notorious for his playboy lifestyle.

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