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Thousands Wish Nepal King a Happy Birthday Despite Maoist-led Protest


Thousands of royalists have wished Nepal's King Gyanendra happy birthday, despite a large protest led by a Maoist youth group. Liam Cochrane reports for VOA from Kathmandu.

King Gyanendra's 60th birthday turned out to be a noisy affair both inside and outside the palace, highlighting the divisions in Nepalese politics.

Outside, around 10,000 protesters, led by the Maoist's Young Communist League, rallied through the streets chanting slogans.

They carried placards showing digitally manipulated images of the king being hanged and attacked with an axe.

Durga Prasad Ojha was one of the young protesters venting his anger at the legacy of the monarchy.

"Since 230 years they did not do any good work for the public, they only fail in their family quarrels and family conflict. Ultimately they pushed the country more backwards and backwards," said Ojha.

But just a few hundred meters away, inside the palace gates ringed by riot police, supporters of the monarchy queued for hours beneath a scorching sun to bring flowers and pay their respects to King Gyanendra.

Padam Bahadur Sapkota, the chairman of a minor political party, says Nepal must retain the monarchy as part of its cultural heritage and as a way to limit the influence of the Maoists.

"The king will be the protector, he will be there, he can protect the actual democracy," he said.

The king's birthday celebrations began with a banquet on Friday night but of the one thousand guests invited, only about 150 people showed up.

Most of Kathmandu's diplomats and political leaders boycotted the event, with the British embassy explaining that as the king was no longer the head of state, there was no reason to attend.

Gyanendra was briefly placed on the throne at the age of three and became king again after a massacre in the royal palace wiped out most of the royal family in 2001.

Since April last year, when a popular uprising forced the king to hand control of the country to political parties, King Gyanendra has been keeping a low profile.

The interim constitution adopted earlier this year stripped the king of most of his powers and in November this year a body will be elected to rewrite the constitution and decide the fate of the monarchy in Nepal.

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