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Nepal Names Head of Peace Negotiation Team

The new government of Nepal says it has named a senior minister to hold preliminary peace talks with Maoist rebels.

Officials said Saturday that Home Minister Krishna Sitaula will head a three-member delegation to initiate dialogue with the Maoists. The other two members will be named soon.

The rebels have already announced a three-member team headed by their spokesman Krishna Mahara. No date has been set for the peace talks.

On Friday, the Maoists hailed parliament's unanimous approval Thursday of a resolution that sharply curtailed the powers of the king and stripped him of control over the country's armed forces.

The government declared Friday a public holiday to celebrate passage of the resolution, and thousands of Nepalese rallied throughout the Himalayan country.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher welcomed the latest political developments Friday, and said Nepal's future now lies in the hands of its people. He said Washington is ready to resume military aid to Nepal if the new government asks for it.

Boucher said the Maoist rebels can be part of the political process, if they renounce violence and respect human rights.

The resolution strips the king of his legal immunity, cancels his privilege of not paying taxes and transfers authority of the 90,000 strong army to parliament.

The government will no longer be known as "His Majesty's Government," but only as Nepal's government.

Curtailing the king's powers was a key demand during last month's pro-democracy protests, which forced King Gyanendra to give up total control of the government and reinstate parliament.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.