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Nepal's King Pledges to Uphold Multiparty Democracy - 2003-01-03

Nepal's King Gyanendra has pledged to uphold multiparty democracy in the country, in his first public speech since he fired the country's elected government three months ago. The king also made a plea for national unity to resolve the political crisis in the mountain kingdom.

King Gyanendra's promise to support nationalism and multiparty democracy came in a rare appearance outside of Katmandu. He spoke at a civic reception in the eastern town of Biratnagar, declaring that all personal differences should be set aside in the interest of the country and the people.

The King's pledge and his appeal for unity came amid a widening rift with mainstream political parties over his action in dismissing the government and appointing an interim administration headed by a staunch monarchist.

Most of the country's political parties boycotted Friday's function. They have called the King's action unconstitutional, and threatened to step up protests demanding fresh elections.

But the King stressed that he wanted cooperation, and not confrontation.

Thousands of people in Biratnagar town defied calls by Maoist rebels for a strike, and turned up to attend the function, which was held amid tight security. The King's speech was also broadcast live on state television.

The King did not make a direct reference to the rebellion that is raging in the country, but said all disputes should be settled through a dialogue.

King Gyanendra ascended the throne after his brother, Birendra and other members of the royal family were killed in a palace massacre a year and a half ago.

He has promised to hold new elections since he dismissed the elected government, but has not set a time-frame. Many political parties and observers say that the continuing political turmoil is threatening democracy and have expressed fears that the country may return to the executive monarchy that existed for three decades until 1991.