Nepal's King names new cabinet

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Wednesday, February 2, 2005

Kathmandu, NepalKing Gyanendra of Nepal has today announced a new 10-member cabinet, after yesterday sacking the coalition government. The King, who some Nepalis view as a reincarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, made the announcement on the state run television and radio service. "A new Cabinet will be formed under my leadership," he said. "This will restore peace and effective democracy in this country within the next three years."

Gyanendra named Rames Nath Pandey as foreign minister, Dan Bahadur Shahi as Home Minister, as well as Radha Krishna Mainali, a member of the communist party, as minister for sports and education. The king has decided to head the new administration himself, after accusing the old administration of failing to ensure the small nation's security. Nepal is in the midst of a Maoist insurgency that has claimed more than 11,000 lives since 1996.

All telephone lines and mobile telephone networks have been cut with the outside world. Flights into and out of the capital of Kathmandu, have also been stopped. However one flight did leave for New Delhi overnight. Local radio stations are also reported to have been shut down, and Nepali websites are inaccessible from outside Nepal.

The United Nations, Britain, the United States and India criticized the king's action, and Australia has advised its citizens not to travel to Nepal.

Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the UN has said that the king's actions are "a serious setback for the country ... steps should be taken immediately to restore democratic freedoms and institutions" The US administration added that the sacking was a "step back from democracy" and India joined into the chorus by saying that the developments were a "cause of grave concern". The UK, the USA and India have all provided Nepal with arms and given the army training under the banner of security aid. The Nepalese army has tripled in size in less than 10 years. The US alone is estimated to have supplied 20,000 M-16 rifles as well as night-vision and communications equipment, and counter-insurgency training.

The Indian Express newspaper is reporting that the Indian government tried to dissuade King Gyanendra from a "power grab" a few weeks ago.

A statement from New Delhi said ""These developments constitute a serious setback to the cause of democracy in Nepal and cannot but be a cause of grave concern to India," an Indian foreign ministry statement said. The latest developments in Nepal bring the monarchy and the mainstream political parties in direct confrontation with each other. This can only benefit the forces that not only wish to undermine democracy but the institution of monarchy as well." India shares an open border with Nepal.

The leader of the Maoist rebels, Prachanda, likened the kings actions to "medieval feudal autocracy", and said that the King was trying "to push the Nepalese society of the 21st century back to the 15th.". In a statement to a [cpnm.org Maoist website] he said "We heartily call upon the entire pro-people forces of the world to raise their voices against this autocratic step and in the favor of the Nepalese people's democratic movement,"

Prachanda, denounced King Gyanendra as a "national betrayer" and told Nepalis to "shut down Nepal" in a three day general strike from Wednesday to Friday, however witnesses in Kathmandu said life was going on as normal, and there are no obvious signs of additional security. Meenakshi, a street sweeper outside the gates of the King's palace said "I just don't know anything. I am just here like any other day," The King has imposed a state of emergency which forbids mass gatherings.

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