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Fresh controversy over Nepal King, army links

india Updated: Jul 10, 2006 16:57 IST
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Nepal King Gyanendra's birthday, celebrated on a low-key with the government stripping it of the prestige of being a national holiday, has still struck a discordant note with parliament suspecting the army of flouting state directives.

Though the government had instructed its embassies and high commissions abroad as well as officials in Nepal that there should be no official celebration of the King's 60th birthday on Friday, the army stoked fresh controversy when chief Gen Pyar Jung Thapa went to the palace to offer greetings and 21 cannons were fired to mark the occasion.

The army has always been regarded as being loyal to the palace instead of the government.

Marking a departure from tradition, none of the ministers or chiefs of the other security wings went to the palace on Friday. Gen Thapa, who went to the palace in full army uniform, was the lone exception.

The incident ruffled the feathers of a parliamentary committee supervising the work of the state departments, which summoned Defence Secretary Bishnu Dutt Upreti Sunday to ask for an explanation.

According to Upreti, the army chief went to the palace in his personal capacity, an explanation that is being criticised by political leaders.

A former home minister and member of the second largest party in Nepal said Thapa should make a public apology for flouting the government directive.

"When the government decides not to celebrate the king's birthday, it was a serious mistake by the army to do so," said Bamdev Gautam, leader of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist. "It proves the army has still not changed."

The new government of Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala has come under volleys of criticism for not suspending the army chief, who is accused of having helped King Gyanendra suppress the protests against his authoritarian rule, while the chiefs of Nepal Police, Armed Police Force and National Security Department have been suspended.

Also, Thapa and other army officials have been so far spared from a commission formed to bring to justice the royalist officials responsible for ordering excessive force on unarmed demonstrators.

The deployment of nearly 3,000 army personnel in the palace, who take orders from the royal military secretariat, has also not been scrapped despite parliament ordering so in May.

Upreti, however, told the parliamentary panel that work had begun to dismantle the palace military secretariat.

Last year, the army helped the king seize absolute power through a bloodless coup, jail opposition leaders and suspend civil rights.

Though the new government has been seeking to dissociate the king from the army, public doubts remain about a nexus.