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Nepal's king renews election pledge, sets no date

Written by: Staff
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KATHMANDU, Apr 13 (Reuters) Nepal's embattled King Gyanendra vowed today to hold elections in his Himalayan kingdom but gave no firm dates and did not appear to go beyond previous promises to resolve a raging campaign against his rule.

The monarch's message, broadcast at the stroke of midnight at the start of the Nepali Hindu New Year, looked unlikely to defuse a violent pro-democracy movement that has killed four people in the past week and wounded hundreds.

''It is our wish that in order to re-energise multi-party democracy there should not be any delay in reactivating all representative bodies through elections,'' the message said.

''May the efforts at ensuring sustainable peace and meaningful democracy in the interests of the nation and the people bear fruit during the new year.'' The king's message was largely a repeat of earlier promises to hold elections by April 2007.

The 58-year-old monarch also made no reference to the mass campaign against his rule, which has brought the impoverished country, wedged between India and China, to a standstill since it began on April 6.

He said: ''It is our desire that with the active participation of all political parties committed to peace and democracy, a meaningful exercise in multi-party democracy be initiated through an exemplary democratic exercise like the general elections.

That call apparently ruled out any involvement of Maoist rebels who have been fighting since 1996 to topple the monarchy and have joined hands with mainstream political parties to form a loose alliance against the king.

More than 13,000 people have been killed in the Maoist revolt which has strangled the aid and tourism dependent economy.

DIALOGUE FOR DEMOCRACY The king called on all political parties to initiate a dialogue aimed at reactivating democracy but gave no details.

''Dialogue must form the basis for the resolution of all problems. We believe that there is no alternative to multi-party democracy in the 21st century and the verdict of the ballot alone is legitimate.'' Nepalis had hoped the king's traditional new year message would contain some new steps to ease tensions and end a confrontation with his opponents.

However, there was no immediate reaction from an alliance of Nepal's seven main political parties which launched the campaign against the Hindu king.

King Gyanendra sacked the government and seized power in February 2005 saying political leaders had failed to quell the Maoist insurgency and hold long-delayed national elections.

Nepal, the world's only Hindu kingdom, traditionally considered its monarch as a reincarnation of the Hindu God Vishnu. But King Gyanendra is regarded by many as one of the most unpopular rulers in the history of the country for his crackdown on pro-democracy campaigners.

He has come under strong pressure from the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and India to rein in his troops and launch talks with political groups to end the turmoil.

Although political opposition to his taking power began immediately after his surprise move, the latest campaign has been the most intense and brought tens of thousands of ordinary people out on the streets.

REUTERS DH BD0215

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