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Nepal House moves on new constitution

Kathmandu, April 30 (Reuters): Nepal’s parliament today unanimously approved a proposal by the new Prime Minister to hold elections for a special assembly to draw up a new constitution that will decide the future of the monarchy.

The 205-member chamber took the decision at the end of a four-hour debate on the proposal, days after unpopular King Gyanendra returned power to political parties, but it did not set a date for the vote.

An election schedule is expected to be drawn up only after Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s government has held talks with Maoist insurgents and won their backing for the plan.

“The election to the constituent assembly is necessary to solve the grave problems facing the country,” Sushil Koirala, a senior lawmaker of the Nepali Congress, told parliament on behalf of the Prime Minister, who did not sit through the session due to his poor health.

The proposal was not put to a vote but was approved verbally. “Without the election to the constituent assembly the Maoist problem cannot be solved and the aspirations of the Nepali people for peace cannot be achieved,” lawmaker Rajendra Mahato of the Nepal Sadbhavana Party said during the debate.

The debate began with Koirala inviting Maoist rebels to talks to try to bring peace to the Himalayan nation.

“I urge the Maoists, who have announced a three-month ceasefire, to stop violence now and come for talks immediately,” said Koirala, who was sworn in by the king earlier in the day. “The establishment of peace and democracy is the national aspiration,” the 84-year-old veteran politician said as lawmakers thumped their desks in approval.

Nepal, one of the 10 poorest countries in the world, was in chaos and its aid and tourism dependent economy was in tatters, he told the 205-member House.

He urged the seven political parties to unite to address the country’s problems as it goes through a transition. “The Nepalese people have achieved new fame in their history through their popular protests,” Koirala said referring to a campaign against the king’s 14-month rule which culminated this month in mass protests and street battles with troops across the mountainous country.

As Koirala spoke inside parliament, about 150 protesters gathered outside its gates shouting: “Hang the murderers”,“Hang the killers”,“Long live democracy”.

Political parties are under popular pressure to abolish the monarchy and turn Nepal into a republic. This is also a key demand of Maoist rebels to end a decade-old insurgency in which more than 13,000 people have been killed.

Sunday's parliament session began after the king administered Koirala the oath of office at the Narayanhity royal palace. Koirala, suffering from bronchitis, was due to be sworn in on Friday but he was too ill to attend the ceremony.

On Sunday, Koirala, who has been prime minister four times before, was accompanied by his doctor to the palace ceremony.

Last week, the king appointed Koirala as prime minister on the recommendation of the seven parties that launched weeks of protests in which at least 15 people were killed.

The king also reinstated parliament disbanded in 2002.

Critics said the king may be down now but not yet out.

”Given his personality, as long as he is around, even if he is a symbolic monarch, he will be up to some mischief,” said Kunda Dixit, editor of the widely read weekly, Nepali Times.

Dixit said the king had money and controlled the army which would tempt him to meddle in the unsettled politics.

”Therefore, one of the first things parliament should do is to clip the king's wings,” he said.

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