NEPAL'S crown prince on life support after killing relatives at palace

Saturday, June 2nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) _ Crown Prince Dipendra, on life support from self-inflicted wounds, was named Nepal's king Saturday after fatally shooting his monarch father and seven other members of the royal family, government and military sources said.

A military official said Dipendra went on the shooting rampage Friday night reportedly after his mother, the queen, objected to his choice of a bride.

Sources said the prince had been declared clinically dead but was being kept breathing by a respirator at a military hospital.

Because of Dipendra's condition, his uncle, Prince Gyanendra, was named acting king by the State Council, which oversees royal affairs.

A funeral procession for the slain king and other royals got under way at sunset. Hundreds of thousands of mourners lined the streets, wailing, clasping their hands in respect and offering flowers as the bodies were taken from the army hospital for cremation.

The bodies of King Birendra, his wife, a son and daughter were put on palanquins made of bamboo and carried on the shoulders of Brahmin priests clad in white vests and loincloths.

The procession, broadcast live on state television, was to cover 8 miles through the capital to the Pashupatinath temple on the bank of the Bagmat River, where the bodies were to be cremated. Hindus in Nepal must be cremated within 24 hours of their death.

Although Nepal's monarch has virtually no power, the palace massacre could further unsettle the political instability in this impoverished Himalayan state. Opposition parties have been demanding Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala's resignation for the government's alleged role in a bribery scandal and for not quelling a growing Maoist insurgency.

Details of Dipendra's injuries were not released. The decision on whether to remove him from life support could fall to the acting king or his only other close relative, the slain king's 73-year-old stepmother, Ratna Rajya Laxmi Devi Shah, Nepal's Queen Mother.

Dipendra, 29, shot all immediate members of the royal family late Friday, including King Birendra, 55; Queen Aiswarya, 51; his brother, Prince Nirajan, 22; and his sister, Princess Shruti, 24, who had two daughters.

The State Council said the others killed were Princess Sharada Shah and Princess Shanti Singh, both sisters of the late king; Kumar Khadga Bikram Shah, Princess Sharada's husband; and Princess Jayanti Shah, a cousin of the late king.

The council said three others were wounded: Gorakh Bikram, Princess Shruti's husband; Komal Shah, the king's cousin; and Prince Dhirendra, the king's youngest brother. All were reported in stable condition.

The government declared a five-day mourning period and ordered flags at half-staff.

Deputy Prime Minister Ram Chandra Paudel called the massacre ``a national tragedy,'' and confirmed the crown prince was to blame.

Paudel told the independent news agency Press Trust of India that the government had ruled out any involvement of Maoist rebels who have been trying to topple Nepal's constitutional monarchy.

The slaughter at Narayanhiti Royal Palace is believed to have been the worst mass slaying of royals since the Romanovs were killed in 1918 during Russia's civil war.

A senior military official said the shooting was caused by a dispute over the marriage of the prince, whose mother reportedly objected to the woman he wanted to wed. The royal family had gathered for dinner Friday night to discuss the wedding.

Sources close to the family said the prince wished to marry the daughter of a former government minister and member of the aristocratic Rana family, which ruled Nepal until 1951.

The shooting reportedly began about 10:40 p.m., and most people didn't learn of the deaths until they awoke Saturday and crowds quickly gathered near the palace in the heart of the city. Police in riot gear moved in around the iron walls that surround the modern concrete palace to keep the crowds back.

``This is unbelievable,'' said Shreeram Shrestha, one of those near the palace. ``One day you hear that the crown prince is getting married soon and the next day he goes on to a shooting rampage and kills everyone in the family.''

``Shocking is an understatement. We have been orphaned by this loss,'' said Janardan Sharma, a vegetable vendor who left his morning rounds to head to the palace.

King Birendra, who took the throne on Jan. 31, 1972, held near absolute power until a popular uprising in 1990 forced him to accept democracy. He became a figurehead royal much like the queen of England, appearing in ceremonies and addressing Parliament once a year.

The royal family is revered in Nepal, where some believe the king is the reincarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu.

Nepal, roughly the size of Tennessee, is squeezed between China and India. It is one of the world's poorest countries, with 21 million people and an annual per capita income of only $213.