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Nepal's King Completes First Year as Monarch - 2002-06-05

Nepal's King Gyanendra is completing his first year as monarch with a call for peace in the mountain kingdom. A Maoist insurgency has flared in the past year, leading to concerns about the future of the country's fragile democracy.

King Gyanendra has called on the people to do something for "peace, development, and good governance". Speaking to the Nepali state news agency, he said the country is "choking in a spate of violence, terror, and destruction".

King Gyanendra took over as monarch last June after a palace massacre in which the Crown Prince Dipendra gunned down his parents, and seven other family members before shooting himself. With virtually the entire royal family wiped out, Gyanendra, the brother of the slain king, ascended the throne.

It was a traumatic event in the mountain kingdom. It was also the beginning of a year of unprecedented violence as a Maoist insurgency that began in 1996 became bolder and more bloody.

The Maoist violence is unrelated to the massacre of the royal family, but threatens the country with its worst crisis.

A few months after King Gyanendra was crowned, Maoist rebels walked out of peace talks. Fighting between government troops and rebels intensified, and the country was placed under emergency rule that suspended civil liberties.

In the past six months, the fighting has killed hundreds of people, including rebels, soldiers, and civilians. The Maoists are said to control nearly a quarter of the country.

They want to overthrow the country's constitutional monarchy, and establish a communist republic.

Adding to the country's woes, it has also been plunged into political instability. Late last month, King Gyanendra dissolved parliament and called elections two years ahead of schedule, on the recommendation of the prime minister who was facing a rebellion from his own party. The king also agreed to extend the state of emergency.

The king has come under heavy criticism from senior political leaders for supporting the prime minister. They have expressed fears it maybe difficult for Nepal to hold elections while it remains under emergency rule, and many parts of the country continue to be wracked with violence.

Responding to the criticism, King Gyanendra gave assurances that the monarchy is functioning within the constitutional framework.

Analysts say King Gyanendra, although only a constitutional figurehead, may have to play a critical role in steering the country through turbulent times in the coming months. The monarch has expressed hope that elections will be held as announced in November.