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Nepal Parliament Meets Without New Leader

  • Patricia Nunan

Nepal's parliament has - met for the first time in four years. It convened after King Gyanendra conceded to opposition parties and pro-democracy protesters earlier this week - but the new prime minister was too sick to attend.

Legislators applauded and pounded on tables as parliament met for the first time in four years. The session was largely ceremonial, and was closed less in than an hour. But it is seen as a major victory for Nepal's pro-democracy movement.

Parliament was dismissed in May 2002. The move sparked a political crisis, which deepened when the King Gyanendra took full control of government in February of last year - arresting political opponents and curbing civil liberties.

In response, an alliance of seven opposition parties organized wave after wave of protests. After months of false starts, the protests gathered momentum earlier this month - often becoming violent. King Gyanendra then announced Monday he would reinstate parliament.

But that may not mean the end of demonstrations.

Hundreds of protesters gathered Friday - this time outside parliament.

This student says restoring parliament is not enough - and protesters will continue to march until Constituent Assembly elections are held.

Nepal's new Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala had been expected to announce Friday that an election for a Constituent Assembly would be held, since it is a key demand of opposition parties, demonstrators, and Nepal's communist insurgents, who call themselves Maoists.

That new assembly would be tasked with deciding whether to keep Nepal's monarchy, or whether the country should become a republic. It would also set an agenda for peace talks with the Maoists, who have been fighting to overthrow the king since 1996.

But Mr. Koirala, who is 84, did not attend parliament's opening session, due to poor health. He is expected to be formally sworn in at a later date.

Many Nepalese have grown cynical of the political parties, which have a reputation for petty squabbling.

Rhoderick Chalmers, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, an independent research organization, says that given the recent success of the democracy movement, the absence of Mr. Koirala should not affect the parties willingness to work together.

"Koirala has assumed a very natural, de-facto leadership of this grouping, partly because he's the head of the largest party, and partly because of his own seniority," he said. "It would be very sad, I think, if he couldn't now assume a full leadership role. It would perhaps be slightly damaging. But I don't think it affects the fundamentals."

Parliament is also expected to announce a cease-fire in its fight against the Maoists. The move would reciprocate the three-month unilateral cease-fire the Maoists declared on Thursday.

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