NEPAL gets new king amid demand for explanation of palace slayings


Monday, June 4th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6



KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) _ Hoping to move Nepal past its royal massacre, a new king took the throne Monday and ordered an investigation and public explanation, even as furious citizens staged riots that police stopped with guns, clubs and a curfew.

Two men were killed, apparently by police gunfire, according to doctors at Katmandu hospitals who said they treated 19 other people for minor injuries.

King Gyanendra went on national television to pledge a full investigation of the royal tragedy that shook this impoverished Himalayan nation. But he has already lost credibility by saying Sunday that the previous king and most of Nepal's royal family were killed by ``accidental'' automatic gunfire.

``We don't want Gyanendra,'' said businessman Rajeev Tamrakar. ``We don't believe him.''

Gyanendra's ascension to the throne gives him little power _ Nepalese monarchs are heads of state, but do not govern _ and he will likely have a tough task gaining the support of many Nepalese.

The succession followed the death early Monday of his nephew, King Dipendra, the former crown prince whom officials have privately identified as the gunman who killed his family at a dinner Friday, then shot himself. Another royal also died of his wounds Monday, bringing the death toll to 10.

Many Nepalese refused to believe Dipendra was the killer. Amid a dearth of official information, they gathered on street corners, exchanging gossip and conspiracy theories that may have helped fuel public anger.

Some noted that Gyanendra and his son, Paras Shah, who might become crown prince, were absent from the dinner that ended in bloodshed, while Gyanendra's wife, whom he crowned Monday as queen, was wounded but survived.

Thousands of angry people took to the streets Monday, some throwing rocks in demonstrations that police first broke up using tear gas. More crowds gathered, with people chanting ``Dipendra is innocent'' and ``punish the real murderers.'' Others yelled: ``We don't want Gyanendra.''

State-run radio finally ordered citizens to remain indoors from 4 p.m. until 5 a.m. Tuesday.

``Do not go out of your houses or you can be shot,'' warned a radio bulletin, although police and soldiers were supposed to first warn violators to get inside. Armed riot patrols surrounded the royal palace and eyewitnesses saw soldiers fire warning shots into the air and beat demonstrators with batons.

Soldiers pointed guns at people and shouted at them to rush home as they scurried through streets and alleyways.

Some people were injured by flying rocks and tear gas shells, but the highly secretive authorities provided little official information.

After police and soldiers cleared people off streets littered with rocks and smashed bricks, officials staged an evening funeral procession for Dipendra and cremated him with Hindu rites. Soldiers fired cannon volleys in a salute after nightfall.

Meanwhile, the State Department warned Americans in Nepal to remain indoors until Tuesday because of the disturbances. Spokesman Richard Boucher said the department was preparing an announcement that would urge Americans to defer travel to Nepal.

Earlier, thousands lined the path of a royal procession as King Gyanendra rode in a horse-drawn carriage from the old palace, where he was enthroned, to the new palace that will be his official residence _ the scene of the killings.

There was little applause and few people clasped their hands in the traditional Hindu greeting of respect as their new monarch passed. A lone supporter shouted ``long live the king,'' but nobody joined in.

Gyanendra's slain elder brother, King Birendra, was a beloved monarch regarded by many as an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. King Birendra's youngest brother, Dhirendra Shah, died Monday of his wounds, the official National News Agency said, quoting doctors in the military hospital.

Gyanendra appeared emotionless as he addressed Nepal on Monday night, which by custom any new king must do.

``We need to be united at this hour so that no one can take undue advantage of the situation and harm the independence and democracy of the nation,'' he said.

He ordered an investigation of the shootings, headed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Keshav Prasad Upadhaya and two committee members: House Speaker Taranath Ranabhat and opposition leader Madhav Kumar Nepal.

Gyanendra appeared earlier at a palace enthronement ceremony, his head shaven in a traditional show of respect for the dead. He wore a crown topped with a large cream-color plume.

In a written statement, Gyanendra appeared to acknowledge problems with his claim that the palace killings were accidental.

``The facts could not be made public in yesterday's statement due to legal and constitutional hurdles,'' Gyanendra said. ``I will make the facts of the incident public after an investigation.''

Since Dipendra was technically the king over the weekend, he was above reproach under Nepal's constitution and by tradition _ so accusing him of murder would have been out of the question. At the time, Gyanendra was regent, or acting king.

Some blame a political or military conspiracy for the deaths.

Maoist rebels, who launched an insurgency in 1996 and are seeking to eliminate the monarchy, pointed to a ``grave political conspiracy'' in a statement signed by Prachanda, the president of the underground Maoist party. Prachanda, who goes by one name, called the shootings a ``pre-planned massacre'' that would end Nepal's present political system.