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Koirala takes oath as Nepal PM

It was the first time that Koirala came face-to-face with the King after weeks of protests forced the monarch to give up absolute power.

india Updated: May 06, 2006 19:05 IST
Associated Press
Associated Press

Girija Prasad Koirala was sworn in for his fifth stint as Nepal's prime minister on Sunday in the Himalayan country's latest step toward democracy.

It was the first time that Koirala came face-to-face with King Gyanendra after weeks of protests forced the monarch to give up absolute power.

His oath of office had been delayed by unspecified lung problems, and the 84-year-old Koirala was accompanied to the royal palace by his doctor.

Traditionally, a prime minister goes to the Martyrs Gate, then to his office after he is sworn in. But Koirala headed home instead, apparently to rest up before addressing Parliament later in the day.

Key Facts on Koirala

• Koirala, 84, rose to prominence in the late 1940s as a trade union leader.

• Spent seven years in jail and later went into exile in India for opposing monarchy in 1960.

•In 1991, he became Nepal's first elected PM in 30 years after protests against King Birendra led to restoration of multi-party democracy.

• Quit as premier in 1994 after losing elections, the beginning of a long period of instability in Nepal.

• Rode to power for a 4th time in 2000 on anti-corruption ticket. 

• Promised to stamp out Maoist rebellion which aimed to topple constitutional monarchy.

• Resigned a year later as the insurgency spread rapidly, and the rebels said they would hold talks if he stepped down.

• Elected Nepali Congress chief for a third term last year.

• Vowed to step up protests against Gyanendra.

• Koirala was arrested several times over the past 14 months of royal absolute rule.

He was also expected to name ministers in his government-- including representatives from all the seven main political parties that formed an alliance to protest the king's seizure of power last year.

Parliament was to discuss a number of proposals made on Koirala's behalf on Friday, when Parliament convened for the first time in four years, including a cease-fire with Maoist rebels and establishment of a special assembly to rewrite the constitution.

Koirala faces the enormous challenge of keeping the alliance together, along with trying to bring their Maoist rebel allies into talks before announcing elections to the special assembly.

The Maoist rebels declared a cease-fire last week, but made it clear their truce was only for three months.

Koirala's "biggest task is to bring the Maoists on the right track," said Pradeep Gyawali of Communist Party of Nepal. Koirala's party members agree.

"The first task the Cabinet needs to do is declare a cease-fire and begin peace talks," said Baldev Majgaiya of Koirala's Nepali Congress party.

"The main challenge for him is to manage the arms and the militia the Maoists have. They have the guns and the training, and the prime minister has to make sure they don't have the guns during the elections," Majgaiya said.

Party lawmakers also are demanding all the orders and laws of the previous government be invalidated and that the king be stripped of control over the 90,000-strong army, fearing he could use its loyalty to grab power again.

They are demanding the laws be amended immediately so the prime minister becomes the supreme commander of the army. The current constitution also gives the king broad powers to dismiss governments.

On Saturday, the rebels freed eight of 11 unarmed soldiers they abducted last week despite a cease-fire declaration. The freed soldiers were handed over to representatives of the rights group INSEC-Nepal in the village of Jitpur, about 500 kilometres (310 miles) east of Katmandu, the group said in a statement.

The fate of the three remaining soldiers was unknown. The soldiers were captured Thursday in the nearby village of Ramdittha, according to Indresh Dahal, a spokesman for the Royal Nepalese Army.

The abductions came just hours after the rebels had declared a three-month unilateral cease-fire, but it was possible the guerrillas involved did not know of the announcement. There was no official reaction to the abduction.

On Thursday, the rebels' elusive leader, Prachanda, said his fighters would not attack government targets for three months to allow Parliament time to ready Nepal for elections for the constitutional assembly.

First Published: May 01, 2006 14:46 IST