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Gyanendra dangles election bait

Kathmandu, April 14: King Gyanendra tonight said he would call general elections in Nepal, which has been wracked by pro-democracy protests for the past eight days.

The king did not give specific details during a new year broadcast, prompting suggestions that it is a measure aimed at buying time in the face of mounting domestic and external pressure to bring in democracy.

Observers said a formal invitation for talks to the multi-party alliance spearheading the protests would have been a more meaningful gesture. “The king is moving according to his plan and at his own pace. This cannot be called a concession before going through the fine print,” a political commentator said.

In a statement, the king said: “It is... our desire that with the active participation of all political parties committed to peace and democracy, a meaningful exercise in multi-party democracy be initiated through an exemplary democratic exercise like the general elections.”

He asked political parties to resolve all issues through dialogue. “The process of dialogue is always open to activate multi-party democracy system,” he said, but it was not clear whether a formal invitation would be issued.

Gyanendra reiterated a call to political parties to “bear responsibility of ' and contribute to ' activating the multi-party democratic polity.”

The statement came as the US dealt a diplomatic blow to the king by deciding to pull out most of its staffers from its mission. Yesterday, the US had closed down the consular section in the embassy and the American Center library indefinitely.

The US embassy said the state department authorised the departure from Nepal of non-emergency personnel and their families.

This authorisation means non-emergency employees, their family members and families of employees who must remain at their posts in Nepal now have an option to leave the country.

The statement added that the state department had endorsed the recommendation of the US mission here after violent street protests and growing instability in Nepal.

The US mission in Nepal includes the embassy, the USAID agency, the consular section and the American Center library.

The US had cancelled the visit of an eight-member delegation of the House of Representatives led by the Speaker, J. Dennis Hastert. The delegation was supposed to spend three days in Kathmandu to review the developments here and meet representatives of the government and political parties.

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