Nepal prince in jumbo controversy
After hitting the headlines over a pair of rhinos, Nepal's Crown Prince Paras now finds himself at the centre of another controversy - this time featuring a pair of elephants.
While the cash-strapped government of King Gyanendra has not paid scores of debts, ranging from nearly $5.3 million to a private hydropower company to millions of rupees to helicopter firms, it has granted Nepali Rs 430,000 to a little known organisation to sponsor a programme in honour of the heir to Nepal's throne.
Shanti Kshetra Anusandhan Tatha Adhyayan Kendra (Peace Zone Research and Study Centre) - a Kathmandu-based group about whom little is known, including what sort of research it conducts - has been allocated the money to celebrate a local honour conferred on the prince by his father earlier this month, the Jan Astha weekly reported on Wednesday.
The celebration includes hiring a pair of elephants - for Nepali Rs 5,000, about a month's salary for a Nepali guard - for carrying Paras and his wife, Crown Princess Himani, from the palace gate to the festivity venue.
About Nepali Rs 20,000 - more than the pay of a judge - will be spent on a copper plaque for the prince, Nepali Rs 40,000 on snacks and Nepali Rs 50,000 for cultural performances.
One of the patrons of the group is a former general and palace aide, Bharat Keshar Singh, who also heads the pro-palace religious organisation World Hindu Federation (WHF) that was among the first to welcome Gyanendra's coup last year and urge "Hindus worldwide" to support the measure.
The WHF itself was recently allocated a substantial sum of money from the state coffers.
Paras, currently abroad, hit the headlines when the Nepal government gifted a pair of one-horned rhinos, an endangered species, to an Austrian zoo to wangle an invitation to Vienna.
The state media projected the invitation as coming from the Austrian chancellor and an important step in enhancing ties between Nepal and Austria, which holds the presidency of the 25-member European Union.