Royalist PM quits after street protests

PTI | ByGopal Sharma (Reuters), Kathmandu
May 09, 2004 08:14 PM IST

Surya Bahadur Thapa announced his resignation in a move that could open the way to resolving a long-running political crisis.

Nepal's royalist prime minister, Surya Bahadur Thapa, announced his resignation on national television on Friday, a move the opposition said could open the way to resolving a long-running political crisis.

King Gyanendra had accepted Thapa's resignation and had begun talks to find a replacement, the Royal Palace said.

Thapa's resignation came after weeks of sustained and sometimes violent street protests by opposition groups and a day after a key meeting with international donors who pressed for democratic reforms in the aid-dependent country.

"I have decided to submit my resignation to His Majesty the King, with effect from today," Thapa, 76, said, looking gloomy but immaculately dressed in a cream-coloured Nepali knee-length robe and jacket, and a black cap.

"I hope my resignation will pave the way for building a national consensus and help establish lasting peace in the country," he said, reading from a prepared statement.

Nepal has been in political turmoil since Gyanendra fired the elected government in 2002, replaced it with a royalist administration and postponed elections.

The palace said Gyanendra had begun consultations for a new prime minister "who has a clean image and can muster support of all parties to form a new council of ministers" before elections planned for next April.

Opposition groups have mounted daily street protests since the start of April demanding the king sack Thapa and restore multi-party democracy, and his departure paves the way for fresh talks between the king and the opposition.

The opposition welcomed Thapa's resignation but asked him to accept their nominee for prime minister.

"This has opened the doors for talks with the king and provided an opportunity to solve the problem," said Madhav Kumar Nepal, chief of the Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) party, the second-biggest group in a five-party opposition bloc.

Opposition demands

In a sign of rapprochement on Monday, the king lifted a ban on public protests that had sparked thousands of arrests, and also released two opposition leaders.
More than 10,000 people demonstrated in Kathmandu, shouting anti-king slogans.

"The king should appoint the opposition parties' nominee as prime minister and reinstate the suspended parliament," said Subash Nemwang, a member of the UML and leader of the protest.

Much will depend on who the king chooses to replace the 76-year-old Thapa, who was appointed last June.

"This will defuse some of the street tension but whether it is a long-term solution or not depends on who and how Thapa is replaced," said Kunda Dixit, editor of widely read English weekly Nepali Times.

A Western diplomat said the announcement came as a surprise. "Now we hope that a multi-party government will be formed as is being demanded by many," the diplomat said. "We believe that political parties and the king should form a united front against the Maoists."

Maoist rebels have been fighting a bloody revolt since 1996 to replace the monarchy with a communist republic in an uprising that is thought to have claimed more than 9,000 lives.

Gyanendra said in March he aimed to hold new elections by April 2005 but analysts said a free vote was not possible without peace with the rebels, who walked out of talks last August.

The king came to power after his brother King Birendra and several members of the royal family were massacred by the then crown prince in 2001. He has never been as popular as his brother.

Thapa, who has served five terms as prime minister, was defiant to the last, blaming "the stubbornness of political parties" for his failure to build consensus, and blaming the rebels for turning their backs on peace talks. 

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