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Nepal's New PM Urges Maoists to Join Peace Process

Nepal's new prime minister has called on Maoist rebels to renounce violence and join talks to help bring peace to the troubled Himalayan kingdom. Girija Prasad Koirala made the appeal in a brief speech to parliament shortly after he took the oath of office Sunday at the royal palace.

A frail-looking 84-year-old Koirala was sworn in as prime minister on Sunday by King Gyanendra at the Narayanhiti Palace in Kathamandu.

Mr. Koirala's swearing-in was originally due to be held Friday, but was postponed due to his ill health.

He was chosen prime minister by an alliance of seven political parties, after King Gyanendra agreed to hand back power to the parties, following weeks of massive pro-democracy protests. The king, who grabbed power in February 2005, also reinstated parliament, which re-opened on Friday.

Nepal is back on the road to democracy, but political analysts say the months ahead pose many challenges for its widely respected prime minister, who is coming to the helm of the government for the fourth time.

Mr. Koirala has said his main priority will be to negotiate with Maoist rebels, who have been waging a decade-long insurgency to turn Nepal into a communist republic. He also has proposed elections for an assembly that will draw up a new constitution for the country.

Gopal Man Shrestha, a spokesman for the seven-party alliance, says starting talks with the rebels is one of its main priorities.

Shrestha says, one of the first tasks before the political alliance is to reciprocate by offering a cease-fire to the rebels, who have already declared a unilateral three-month truce.

The political parties entered into an informal agreement with the rebels last year to work together to end the king's control of the government. They now face the task of bringing the rebels into the political mainstream.

Mr. Koirala also must ensure that the alliance stays united. In the past, weak and bickering political parties have been blamed for instability in the country.

Kanik Dixit, editor of the Himal newspaper, says the biggest challenge before the prime minister and the political parties will be to ensure that they rise to the expectations of ordinary people, who were key in forcing King Gyanendra to give up power. They now want to see the king's powers clipped.

"The challenge will be staying true to the mandate provided not by an election to this parliament and to the prime minister, but a mandate set before them by the people's movement, which was this incredible outflow of power and energy from the people, who want a change, in which monarchy is pushed back in toto," Dixit says.

At least 18 people were killed in the pro-democracy protests that rocked Nepal for nearly three weeks. King Gyanendra took control of the government last year, saying he needed to crush the Maoist rebellion.