Nepal PM-designate absent as parliament reopens

Kathmandu, April 28 | Updated: Apr 29 2006, 05:30am hrs
Nepals parliament opened on Friday for the first time in four years, but the countrys 84-year-old prime minister-designate was too ill to attend the opening or his swearing-in ceremony. The House began with two minutes of silence for the victims of this months anti-monarchy and pro-democracy street protests, in which at least 13 people died and thousands were wounded.

In a written statement to parliament, the absent premier-in-waiting, Girija Prasad Koirala, promised to call elections to a special assembly to draw up a new constitution, hold talks with Maoist rebels and declare a ceasefire. The acting speaker said a debate would be held on Sunday on Koiralas proposals.

Outside, thousands of Nepalis surrounded the gates of parliament, waving party flags and chanting slogans to keep up pressure for a new constitution and a curb on the kings powers. Others attended the first public rally in Kathmandu in three years to be addressed by a senior leader of the Maoist rebel movement, which declared a unilateral three-month ceasefire on Thursday. Monks in maroon robes and women in traditional tribal dress were among thousands gathered outside the gates of parliament.

Democracy hasnt yet come, our struggle continues, they chanted. Others held up banners parroting the demands of Maoist rebels who control vast swathes of the country and lent their backing to the often bloody pro-democracy and anti-monarchy protests.

Protests continue until the announcement of an unconditional constituent assembly, read one. Abolish the Royal Nepalese Army and set up a Nepalese Army, read another. Life has largely returned to normal in Nepal since the countrys mainstream political parties called off their campaign.

That followed King Gyanendras announcement on Monday evening that he was reviving parliament and surrendering power to the parties who led the protests. But Koiralas ill health threatens to get his fifth term as prime minister off to an inauspicious start.