King recalls Nepalese parliament in effort to halt protests

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The Independent Online

King Gyanendra of Nepal announced he was recalling parliament last night in a dramatic last-minute attempt to stave off massive protests planned for today.

The King's announcement came just hours before rallies at which opposition parties have called for two million people to protest against the King's rule.

The opposition parties immediately welcomed the King's announcement and said they would probably postpone the protests. But it remains to be seen whether the announcement will be welcomed as readily on the street, where hundreds of thousands of Nepalis have called for the monarchy to be abolished.

"I have recalled the parliament that was dissolved ... Now I call upon the seven political parties to come for the meeting of parliament I have called on Friday at 1pm," King Gyanendra said in a nationally televised address. "I extend our heartfelt condolences to all those who have lost their lives in the people's movement," the King added in an unexpected reference to the killing of at least 14 protesters by his security forces, who opened fire on unarmed civilians.

Arjun Singh, a leader of the largest opposition party, the Nepali Congress, said: "It is the victory of the people's movement." He said the seven-party alliance that had been leading the protests would respond formally to the King's recall of parliament, and would probably postpone the protests.

The seven parties had called for the biggest rally yet on the Kathmandu ring road, and its leaders were to address the crowd at seven different locations and join the march.

The King's announcement came at 11.30pm local time, and it was not clear how the parties would spread word that the rallies had been postponed.

The recall of parliament has been a key demand of the seven parties. King Gyanendra dissolved it in 2002, at the beginning of his dismantling of democracy in Nepal, which culminated last year when he sacked the government.

But while the recall of parliament may be central for the parties, it is not as important to many of the protesters, who have openly called for the monarchy to be abolished. Although the parties began the protests, many of those on the streets do not support them and are openly hostile to their leaders, who are seen by many Nepalis as corrupt.

Many protesters have threatened that the party leaders will be "punished" if they make any sort of deal with King Gyanendra.

The parties' other central demand has been for a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution and decide whether there is any role for a monarchy in Nepal. The King made no reference to a new constitution last night.

It also remains to be seen how the Maoist guerrillas who control much of the countryside will react if the parties strike a deal over the recall of parliament. The Maoists have been in an uneasy alliance with the parties against the King, and agreed to a peace process, but are unlikely to accept a deal that does not include a constituent assembly.