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Future of Nepal's King Gyanendra in Question

More than a year after an interim coalition took control of Nepal's government from the unpopular King Gyanendra, politicians are debating the future of the monarchy, and the country's development. VOA correspondent Steve Herman recently visited Kathmandu and has more on the debate.

Once a year, Nepal's virgin goddess, the Kumari, appears at a festival and gives the king her blessing. It is likely that this year's blessing was the last for King Gyanendra.

After seizing control of the government in 2005, the king was stripped of his power. Massive street protests last year brought in a new interim government.

The new government signed a peace agreement with the Maoist rebels, ending a 10-year conflict.

Now, the Maoists demand that the government and lawmakers immediately declare Nepal a republic, ending the monarchy.

Arjun Narasingha - an executive member of Nepali Congress, the largest political party - says the Maoists should be patient since King Gyanendra has been neutralized. "He's not only inactive, he's powerless. And, virtually speaking, he has no entity in Nepalese politics."

Maoists leaders disagree strongly. Senior Maoist leader C.P. Gajurel says the monarchy is a threat to Nepal. "Everywhere in the history monarchy had tried its comeback again. And (in Nepal) it has its own class. A section of the army is still loyal to the monarchy, which it was trained for (to protect) the last 250 years."

King Gyanendra came to power in 2001 after his brother King Birendra was assassinated by his own son.

Experts say the new king's autocratic style put him in conflict with government leaders, whom he said were too weak to end the Maoist insurgency and improve the economy.

On the streets, many people appear fed up with the bickering among the politicians, the Maoists and the monarchists. Travel agency employee Udhav Situala says none have governed effectively. "Whoever runs Nepal, it is high time for peace so that the people can live and work normally."

The king, for his part, these days keeps silent. Analysts say that either by legislation or force, King Gyanendra is likely to be ousted and exiled.

That would close a two-and-half century era that saw Nepal evolve from feudal rule to a nation-state, but one that has yet to achieve prosperity or a stable democracy.