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Koirala pledges new Constitution

Koirala could not take oath in the morning and was unable to attend the afternoon session due to ill health.

india Updated: Apr 29, 2006 12:32 IST

Reconvening after four years, Nepal parliament's session on Friday began four hours late and lasted only half-an-hour but ended amid thunderous applause as new Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala pledged his commitment to a new Constitution.

Scheduled to start at 1 pm, the House of Representatives, convened four hours later due to the ill health of Koirala, who could not take oath in the morning and was unable to attend the afternoon session.

However, the nearly 200 MPs, politicians and human rights activists present in the house broke out into thunderous applause when the 84-year-old's message was read out.

In his brief message, he said he was committed to upholding people's wishes and was directing the house to begin urgent discussions on how to initiate elections to write a new Constitution that would transform Nepal into a republic, if people so desired.

Koirala said he was also committed to holding a dialogue with the Maoist guerrillas at the earliest, declare a ceasefire on behalf of the government and create an atmosphere free from fear and violence.

The discussions would be continued on Sunday, the second day of the reinstated house.

Chaired by Deputy Speaker Chitralekha Yadav, the session began by observing two minutes' silence in memory of the "matryrs" -- known and unknown -- of the 19-day peaceful uprising against King Gyanendra's rule.

In her address, Yadav said people's power had defeated bullets and created a new chapter in the history of the world.

A thorough overhaul was needed with the government's primary responsibility being social transformation.

The divide between the haves and have-nots would have to be breached with new programmes related to health, agriculture and inclusion of women, Dalits, people from the underdeveloped Terai plains and indigenous communities, she said.

Efficiency and accountability would have to be the watchword of the new government, Yadav said.

The government, she added, would try to resolve the plight of the over
100,000 Bhutanese refugees languishing in southern Nepal for over a decade.

The house gave a thunderous ovation to Sitaram Yechuri, leader of the
Communist party of India-Marxist, who watched the proceedings as part of an Indian delegation. Yechuri is here at Koirala's invitation.

The speaker, Nepali Congress member Taranath Ranabhat, was forced to resign earlier in the week for supporting Gyanendra's rule.

The second-largest party, the Communist party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist too changed its leadership, electing KP Oli at a meeting early in the morning, replacing former deputy prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal.

But probably the most radical change was the MPs, cutting across party lines, dissociating themselves from Gyanendra and the crown.

For the first time, many of them discarded the national dress, the daura saruwal, a must for official programmes.

They also discarded the royal logo earlier worn by MPs, deciding it would be changed in future.

Also, the royal sceptre, presented ceremonially at the session in the past, was discarded.

From the morning, rallies began in the capital and adjoining districts with marchers demanding a republic and warning the new government not to renege on its promise.