Queen's brother tells how Crown Prince ran amok

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A member of the Nepali royal family yesterday gave the first public account of how a drunken crown prince, possibly high on cocaine, massacred the King and eight of his relatives.

Suraj Shamsher Rana, the brother of the murdered Queen, provided details which reinforced the conclusion that the heir to the Nepali throne ­ Crown Prince Dipendra ­ ran amok. Although the brother was not present at the tragic dinner, he says that he has spoken to several survivors from last Friday's killings at the Narayanhiti Palace.

His account adds authority to anonymous explanations that have surfaced in Kathmandu soon after the event, but which until now have lacked a name to lend authenticity.

The Nepalese royal family was in the custom of meeting for dinner every Friday night. The guest list was strictly limited to a maximum of 28 guests, although last week only 22 were believed to have been present; it was an "informal" event by royal standards.

Last Friday's function took place in Crown Prince Dipendra's private quarters within the palace. Drinks and chit-chat began around 9pm and were expected to continue for some time: the royal family preferred to begin their weekly dinners after midnight.

According to Suraj Shamsher Rana's account to the Associated Press, Dipendra had been drinking and had "misbehaved" ­ no details of this was supplied ­ with one of the guests. When an angry King Birendra ordered him out of the room, the Crown Prince was escorted from the function and taken upstairs to his room in a drunken state.

It is alleged that half-an-hour later he reappeared on the stairs, dressed in army fatigues and carrying at least one assault rifle ­ although other reports speak of two, or even three, sub-machine-guns. He walked through a roomful of stunned guests into the next room where his father was. He fired two shots into the ceiling, then shot his father, who fell to the floor in a pool of blood.

From that point the story reads like a remake of the Columbine High School massacre, but weirdly relocated to the royal surroundings of a palace in the Himalayas. Dipendra continued firing, sending guests screaming and hiding behind sofas. He went into the garden where Prince Nirajan, his younger brother, tried in vain to restrain him. "Don't do it!" Nirajan screamed. "Please kill me if you want." Dipendra killed him and then shot his mother, who tried to hold him back.

Dhirendra Shah, the King's youngest brother, who is married to an Englishwoman, Shirley Greaney, and lived in the Isle of Wight before returning to Nepal last year, then stepped forward. "You have done enough damage, hand over the gun now," he cried. But Crown Prince Dipendra shot him three times. On Monday, after suffering three strokes, Dhirendra died in hospital.

Soon afterwards, while standing some 20-feet away from the bodies of his mother and brother, Dipendra then shot himself through the head. He was taken to the Army Hospital in a coma, and in accordance with the Constitution's inflexible rules of succession he was named King Dipendra the next day. He died in hospital on Monday morning without ever regaining consciousness.

However, crucial details of what actually took place on that evening remain blurred. Did the Crown Prince have a blazing row with his parents over his choice of bride? It was well known that Queen Aishwarya had flatly rejected his choice of girlfriend, the one-quarter Indian aristocrat Devyani Shah. But whether or not the issue surfaced at Friday's function remains unclear.

All accounts agree that the Prince was drunk. Other sources insist he was also high on cocaine. A trait akin to schizophrenia has been noticed by some observers who have seen him at close quarters: punctilious in the performance of his official duties, correct and even puckishly likeable, capable of taking intelligent initiatives over matters ­ such as sport, which interested him. Yet he was long reputed to have a frightening, vicious side when drunk. It was also known that he had kept a loaded gun in his desk while at Eton.

As the reports of witnesses to the massacre trickle in, it seems that Nepali public opinion is gradually being softened up for an official revelation of the unpalatable truth.