07/09/2007, 00.00
NEPAL
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Diplomats and political leaders ‘boycott’ the king’s birthday

by Kalpit Parajuli
Few attend events organised by King Gyanendra to celebrate his 60th birthday. The monarch is increasingly excluded from the country’s public life. The prime minister takes his place to celebrate religious ceremony, the first time in 1,300 years.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – Nepali King  Gyanendra invited political leaders, members of the diplomatic corps and other personalities to take part in a series of events he organised for July 6 to 8 to celebrate his 60th birthday. However, ambassadors (among them those of the United States, European Union and India) declined the invitation as did Nepal’s prime minister, the members of his cabinet and top government officials, thus marking his isolation. Former prime ministers like Surya Bahadur Thapa, Lokendra Bahadur Chand and Marich Man Singh Shrestha did however attend.

On Saturday the king opened the Royal Palace to the public, but his opponents demonstrated against him. In Durbar Square near the Royal Palace, members of the Young Communist League (the young wing of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist) attacked people trying to visit the Palace. Clashes with police left nine people injured.

Eight political parties were against any kind of public celebration, but Bharat Keshari Singh, the king’s chief adviser and chairman of the World Hindu Federation, said that “[w]e Hindus . . . can’t tolerate any action against king. We love our king and Hindu kingdom, so we are ready to defend these values.”

Royal sources reported that at least 15,000 people visited the Royal Palace on Saturday to wish the king a happy birthday. Other sources put the number at 2,000. In previous years until he took direct control in 2005 visitors numbered in the tens of thousands every year.

Also for the first time in 1,300 years, the king of Nepal did not attend the Bhotojatra ceremony. Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala took his place the traditional religious function which commemorates the giving of a magic vest as a gift by a snake king to Nepal’s rain god Rato Machhindranath.

The miraculous vest is displayed on the Machhindra chariot which, along with other chariots, passes through the streets of Patan travelling eventually to Jawalakhel, about five kilometres from Kathmandu.

It is a very popular celebration, especially among farmers, who out of respect for Hindu mythology make offerings to God asking for good rain and prosperity.

The king, who dismissed parliament in February 2005, was forced to reinstate it in April 2006 as a result of popular pressures.

Since then a series of constitutional amendments have stripped him of any power ahead of an election to a constituent assembly that should decide the future of the monarchy.

Nepal is the only Hindu monarchy in the world, and the king is considered the reincarnation of Lord Vishnu.

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