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Gyanendra Nepal's sullen and unloved king

          KING Gyanendra's rule was born out of tragedy, and the unsmiling monarch has always struggled to cast off the gloom of his coronation and win the hearts of Nepal's citizens.
Gyanendra, who Monday agreed to reinstate the parliament he dissolved in 2002 after massive street protests, ascended the throne in June 2001 in bizarre circumstances following the killing of his popular brother, King Birendra.
Birendra and other royals were shot dead in a drunken rampage by the then crown prince who later turned the gun on himself, plunging the kingdom into shock and mourning.
But Gyanendra was never able to attain the popularity of his more genial, well-loved brother, who was seen as a symbol of unity in Nepal.
The monarch, traditionally revered as the incarnation of the Hindu god of protection, Lord Vishnu, sacked the government and seized power in February 2005, saying the move was necessary to crush a deadly decade-old Maoist revolt.
Gyanendra gave himself three years to restore elected rule and end the insurgency. But he has now been forced to announce he was cutting short his absolute rule after just 14 months.
During that time, he became even more unpopular and the political parties formed a loose pro-democracy alliance with the Maoists.
He was best known before he became king for the nightclub antics of his errant son Paras, who is now crown prince.
Gyanendra had missed the 2001 massacre because he was away in the west of Nepal. Paras was present but escaped unscathed.
Maoist rebels accused the king of stage-managing the killings and large crowds shouted slogans against him at his coronation. An official probe found that Crown Prince Dipendra was responsible for the massacre.
Some observers have compared Gyanendra's style to that of his autocratic father King Mahendra, who staged a coup in 1960 against the then-elected government. Mahendra imposed a party- less system that remained in place until 1990.
Gyanendra has a reputation as being politically shrewd, but is believed to have opposed Birendra's decision in 1990 to reduce the monarchy to a constitutional figurehead.
He was educated at a Jesuit school in Darjeeling, India, and graduated from Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu in 1969.
The middle son of Mahendra, he is said to be one of the world's wealthiest royals, with substantial properties and investments abroad. He is known for his keen interests in poetry and the environment.
During political upheavals in 1950, he was declared monarch at the age of five after being left behind as insurance when then-king Tribhuvan-his grandfather-fled to India.
The crown reverted back to his grandfather when the family returned a year later and Birendra took over the throne in 1972.
The pro-democracy Kathmandu Post last week warned that already it may be too late for Gyanendra to prevent the crown being taken away from him for a second time.
"For the king, time has run out," it said. "No ruler can get away by killing innocent people.
"We believe the king has gone to the extent of no return. Even if he restores people's sovereignty as per people's wishes, he may not be able to protect the 237-year-old institution."
However, western powers and neighbouring India are concerned that Maoist rebels would take control of the country should the monarch be forced to abdicate, and he could yet retain his crown.
Last week the US ambassador pointed out that Washington would not like to see the world's last Hindu monarch forced to flee his kingdom clinging to the bottom of a helicopter.
Following his agreement to reinstate parliament however, Washington was more upbeat but called for a commitment by the monarch to return to his ceremonial role and stay out of politics completely.
Meanwhile, the United States and India Tuesday led praise for King Gyanendra's decision to recall Nepal's parliament, and appealed for the restoration of full democracy as soon as possible.
US State Department spokesman Adam Ereli, speaking in Washington after the king's announcement late Monday following weeks of violent protests, said the king should now return to the sidelines.
"We believe that he should now hand power over to the parties and assume a ceremonial role in his countrys governance," he said.
Ereli also called on Nepals political parties to "step up to their responsibilities and cooperate to turn the peoples demands for democracy and good governance into reality."
He also said that after 10 years of fighting, Maoists rebels "must end their violent attacks and join a peaceful political process."
"Through these steps, stability, peace and democracy can be restored in Nepal," Ereli said, adding that the United States and the international community stood ready to help.
Japan, a key donor to Nepal, expressed concern about the situation in the country and called for an end to street demonstrations now that the king had agreed to restore parliament.
"Japan hopes that the restoration of democracy will be realised peacefully, and calls upon all parties to act with self- restraint," the Japanese foreign ministry said in a statement.
"Japan also hopes that the parties involved will continue their dialogue to the end so as to find a solution which meets the expectation of the Nepalese people," it added.
India, which shares a border with the Himalayian nation, said it was satisfied with the king's announcement and that it hoped political parties in the kingdom would accept the decision.
"Finally, perhaps the king has seen the errors of his ways because he has already gone on air to announce his willingness to restore parliament," National Security Advisor M.K. Naryanan told reporters in New Delhi.
"There was a great deal of confabulation before that. There was lot of talking by Indian side and lot of others. I think all necessary steps have been taken," Narayanan said, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.
He said political parties in Nepal have more or less indicated that they would accept the king's decision and "we hope to have interim government in a couple of days."
Nepal's opposition was meeting Tuesday to discuss tactics and prepare a full response ahead of a major rally in the capital later in the day.


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