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Nepal's King Re-Appoints Former PM - 2004-06-02


Nepal's king has appointed as prime minister the same person he removed from the post two years ago. Sher Bahadur Deuba has pledged parliamentary elections and peace with Maoist insurgents. In Nepal, the appointment of Sher Bahadur Deuba as prime minister ends a three-week power vacuum that began when the former premier, Surya Bahadur Thapa, resigned after weeks of often violent anti-government street protests.

It is a post Mr. Deuba has held before. King Gyanendra fired him in 2002, charging that he was not competent and could not control Maoists seeking to overthrow the monarchy.

Analysts say bringing Mr. Deuba back might be part of the king's plan to shore up his power by dividing an alliance of five opposition parties.

"This is a clever political move at a time when the five parties have got united, and he would break them," said Sukh Deo Muni of Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

Before reappointing Mr. Deuba, the king set a deadline for the main political parties to recommend a prime minister, but they failed to reach a consensus.

Mr. Deuba has promised to hold parliamentary elections in April 2005. Nepal's main political parties are demanding the restoration of democracy, while the Maoists want to entirely dissolve the monarchy.

But Mr. Muni says that without a cease-fire agreement with the Maoist insurgents, free and fair elections are unlikely.

"The Maoists just wouldn't let the elections take place," he said. "The whole notion is more political gimmickry rather than sincere effort to bring the Maoists into the mainstream."

King Gyanendra assumed the throne three years ago after a palace massacre in which his popular brother, King Birendra, and nine other royal family members were killed.

While his brother was not deeply involved in politics, King Gyanendra two years ago fired the democratically elected Mr. Deuba, appointed a monarchist government, and suspended parliamentary elections indefinitely.

Analysts say this caused the stalemate between the palace and the political parties, and allowed the Maoists to consolidate their hold on much of the countryside.

The king's actions angered party leaders and students. That anger has been building, leading to weeks of regular street protests that have paralyzed Kathmandu.

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