The Nepal royal family massacre

Air of uncertainty hangs over Nepal as rumours fly.

By David Fox

KATHMANDU, June 6 (Reuters) – An air of uncertainty hangs over Nepal’s capital like the storm clouds that have gathered ahead of the monsoon season.

Five days after almost the entire royal family was gunned down in a bloody palace massacre, ordinary Nepalis are still none the wiser as to what actually happened.

“This waiting and being told nothing is not good,” said Talir Maship, as he waited in line to sign a condolence book at the Royal Palace. “It breeds gossip and bad theories.”

But the one theory that is increasingly being accepted as truth is the one almost nobody wants to believe – that Crown Prince Dipendra slaughtered his parents, the king and queen, and seven other members of his family before turning the weapon on himself.

And he did it for love.

“In some ways it would be better if that is what happened,” said Kumar Dal, a textile merchant also waiting in line at the palace. “If there was some other kind of conspiracy it would be terrible for the country.”

The story gaining most currency is that Dipendra flew into a rage when cornered at a family gathering over his choice of bride, whom his parents disapproved of.

As a senior officer in the army, he had easy access to a weapon and knew how to use it. When his rage cleared, and surrounded by shocked palace aides who did not know what to do next, Dipendra shot himself.

“That is what I have heard,” said Sahil Thupa waiting in line at the palace with a bunch of white lillies. “My friend heard it from her relative who worked at the palace. It is so.”

The official line remains that an automatic weapon exploded, but few among the thousands of mourners at the palace on Wednesday believed that.

“You know you cannot say bad things about the royal family, so that is why he had to say that,” said Bhirganj Shati, refering to the statement by the new king, Gyanendra, who was Dipendra’s uncle and former king Birendra’s brother.

A massacre such as that which took place on Friday is not unprecedented in Nepal’s history.

Although the Shah dynasty has ruled for centuries, in 1846 Jung Bahadur Rana – an ambitious noble from the west of the country – initiated a coup in which hundreds of the cream of Nepal’s society and including many members of his own family were killed.

He established a parallel “monarchy” of hereditary Prime Ministers who ruled until the 1950s, with the real king nothing more than a figurehead. Their bloodlines have mixed, however, and the current king and his two dead brothers were all married to Ranas.

On Wednesday Kathmandu was all but closed, although a curfew that had been imposed following riots on Monday had been lifted.

Almost every man in the kingdom has had his head shaved, save for a small tuft at the back, as a mark of respect. Groups of people sat huddled at street corners, discussing the crisis or poring over newspapers.

Stray dogs lay panting in the shade of the narrow streets as crows pecked at the remains of roasted corn cobs sold by women dressed in brightly coloured saris.

The condolence books at the palace were in demand with dozens already filled and still hundreds waiting for a chance to write their message of sorrow.

“The sun has stopped shining,” said one entry from the Kupondole family. “We want a proper investigation.”

With the nation at a standstill, even the few tourists around had little else to do but put in an appearance at the palace.

“Best wishes – be together in paradise,” wrote John Driscoll of New York.

King Gyanendra has ordered a panel investigating the massacre to report its findings by Friday, but that has already been bogged down with the main political opposition refusing to be part of the probe.

Their action has angered even loyal supporters.

“They should help the inquiry. We need to know what happened,” said Sher Bhash.

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Nepal faces power vacuum after slaughter of royals.

By David Fox

KATHMANDU, June 7 (Reuters) – Nepal faced a power vacuum on Thursday as the people came to terms with the unbelievable – a beloved crown prince had murdered the king and queen before pulling the trigger on himself.

The bloody massacre of the royal family has left the impoverished Himalayan country in crisis, with the new king yet to win over a traditionally loyal population and a government hardly less secure in its tenure.

The latest in a series of curfews imposed to quell the sort of rioting that erupted on Monday, three days after the palace slaughter, ended at 3 a.m., but authorities said it was purely precautionary.

There was no sign in the capital on Wednesday of the sort of protests that greeted new King Gyranendra’s announcement in the aftermath of the killings that it had been an accident.

Rather, there was a sad acceptance of the truth – or the truth that has been leaking out in more detail over the past few days – that Crown Prince Dipendra was responsible for the carnage.

In the most complete version of the bloody events of last Friday, media accounts and royal insiders said the heir to the throne – angered by his family’s refusal to let him marry the woman of his choice – killed his father King Birendra, his mother Queen Aishwarya and seven others with an automatic weapon.

A friend of the royal family told Reuters that Dipendra was clinically dead when he was brought to hospital after shooting himself through the chin. He was named king anyway, but died on Monday.

The massacre has left a power vacuum in the tiny kingdom where the late King Birendra was hugely popular, particularly after he ceded absolute power in favour of a constitutional monarchy in 1990.

Many had regarded him as an anchor of stability in the poverty-stricken kingdom, torn by political feuding and a bloody Maoist rebellion, and were doubtful about the ability of the new king to command the same respect.

The graphic stories of the massacre came as a source close to a panel announced by the new King Gyranendra to investigate the shooting told Reuters it was expected to start work on Friday.

Announcing the terms of the inquiry, the palace said the two-man investigation, headed by a supreme court justice, would be given three days to report its findings.

But many seem ready to accept that Dipendra could be the villain of the piece.

“In some ways, it would be better if that’s what happened. If there were some other kind of conspiracy, it would be terrible for the country,” bypasser Kuman Dal said.

How soon the government and the new king can move to get the country back to normal remains to be seen.

A combination of curfews and the mourning period announced for the slain royals has brought business to a standstill.

All government departments, all banks and most shops are closed. The few backpackers around complain that they can’t find a travel agent open to book a trekking holiday – a huge source of foreign exchange for the country.

Tax-generating casinos, along with other forms of “entertainment” such as cinemas, discos, popular karaoke bars and even foreign television channels, have been ordered shut. Black market rates for foreign currency are creeping up, and the number of touts per tourist soaring.

“We need to get things back to normal,” said Umar, who runs a booth of pay telephones. “Actually, it doesn’t really matter what happened, we just need to be normal again.”

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Nepalis find their gods have feet of clay.

By David Fox

KATHMANDU, June 8 (Reuters) Nepal woke up on Friday to the realisation that the royalty they revere as gods are probably mortal after all.

Exactly a week after almost the entire royal family was mown down by the crown prince, the nation is finally being told – albeit slowly – what really happened.

Graphic testimony from family members who survived the massacre, in which the king, queen and seven relatives were killed, said Crown Prince Dipendra was the killer.

He turned the gun on himself but was named king anyway by the royal council while he lay in a coma, dying three days later.

“What motivated him to do this, I am not sure,” said Captain Rajiv Shahi, who is married to one of the daughters of late King Birendra’s youngest brother, and a doctor in the army.

“But then it was Crown Prince Dipendra who murdered the King. Anybody who touches the King is no more what he used to be. He is just a murderer.”

Until Shahi’s dramatic news conference on Thursday, the official line remained that the deaths were an accident as a result of an exploding automatic rifle.

And although an official inquiry panel has yet to start work – and said Shahi’s testimony wasn’t valid unless given to them directly – fewer people now doubt their findings will be anything but a foregone conclusion.

Already the local media has started reporting alternative theories to the “accident” line.

Local web site http://www.nepalnews.comhttp://www.nepalnews.com/ quickly updated its pages with Shahi’s account of the killings, the first time it had named Dipendra in connection with the massacre.

Because of the state of mourning, the only television channels available in the kingdom are BBC and CNN, and both reported widely on Dipendra’s involvement long before Shahi’s news conference.

His account has been corroborated by other survivors.

He told how he had helped carry a drunken Dipendra away from a family gathering because he felt his condition was inappropriate. He said Dipendra returning, wearing battle fatigues, and started his shooting spree.

Shahi told how he held his jacket to the neck of the dying king to try to stem the flow of blood from his fatal wound.

Friends of the family said Dipendra had done it because his parents refused to allow him his choice of bride.

All this is now openly discussed in the markets of old Kathmandu. Before, discussing the foibles of the royal family was strictly taboo.

The new King Gyanendra, confronted by riots after his accession, has yet to win over a traditionally loyal population. The government is equally insecure in its tenure.

The slain king was hugely popular, particularly after ceding absolute power in favour of a constitutional monarchy in 1990.

Many had regarded him as an anchor of stability in the kingdom of 22 million people, which is racked by poverty, political feuding and a bloody Maoist rebellion.

Some doubt whether the new king can command the same respect, and even more are wary of the fact that his son, who is next in line to the throne despite not yet being named crown prince, has a reputation as a playboy.

One analyst said the legitimacy of the monarchy could be hurt beyond repair if the Nepali people refused to believe that Dipendra was to blame for the carnage.

“If they don’t tell the truth, there could be a revolution against the monarchy. It’s a dead end,” political science professor Lok Raj Baral at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan University said. “The truth has to come out.”

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Walk through old Kathmandu is a walk through time.

By David Fox

KATHMANDU, June 7 (Reuters) – A walk through the old quarter of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu is a walk back through time.

Just a few paces into the narrow streets and alleys and you could be in the 14th century, save for a jumble of electricity and telephone cables that snake overhead.

Narrow shopfronts with doorways so small you have to stoop to enter line the potholed pavements and rutted streets. Elaborately carved wooden balconies loom overhead, Buddhist figurines and plaster Hindu gods staring wild-eyed from inlays.

Even the business being conducted dates back centuries. Silversmiths and cobblers rub shoulders with spice merchants and weavers. Carpet sellers beckon listlessly from atop huge piles of their goods while barbers sharpen their cut-throat razors on worn leather strops.

But no matter how small or humble the premises, virtually every one boasts a picture of King Birendra, who along with his wife and seven other relatives was mown down by his son and heir in the royal palace last Friday.

Crown Prince Dipendra tried to kill himself after the massacre, and was briefly named king himself as he lay in a coma until dying on Monday.

His uncle Gyanendra is now king, leaving this nation of 23 million puzzled and angered at the behaviour of a family they normally revere as living gods.

“It is unbelievable what happened,” said a trader selling prayer wheels near the old palace complex. “I believe what I hear, but it is hard to understand.”

The official explanation remains that the royals were killed when an automatic weapon exploded, but few people expect a panel established by the new king to investigate the matter to conclude anything else than it was an act of a love-struck prince at odds with his family over his choice of bride.

Public discussion of the palace intrigue is a new development for this impoverished nation known chiefly for its Gurkhas, Sherpas and pashmina shawls.

Discussing the foibles of the royal family is virtually taboo, but even where time seems to have stood still, in the alleys of the old quarter, things have changed.

Groups of men, their heads shaven as a mark of Hindu mourning, stand huddled over newspapers, trying to read between the lines for some hint of what really happened.

Youths touting rafting or walking trips to backpackers ask “what do you think?” as they half-heartedly try to hustle for business.

On one street, dozens of pairs of false teeth grin maniacally from the window of a dentist. The crude tools of his trade, a brutal-looking pair of forceps and a leather bit to keep jaws apart, lay on the counter.

From down one dark alley, a dull-eyed Nepali hissed furtively for business. He was selling another of Kathmandu’s better known but illicit products, hashish.

He still finds custom among the Western travellers who visit Nepal these days, albeit in not so great numbers as during the “hippy pilgrimages” of the 60s and 70s.

With the climbing season at an end, and the monsoon rains gathering in dark clouds above the foothills above Kathmandu, the pace of life is generally slow at this time of the year.

From the goings-on in the palace and down the old alleys of the old quarter, it has a few hundred years of catching up to do.

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Nepal comes to terms with the unbelievable.

By David Fox

KATHMANDU, June 7 (Reuters) – Witnesses to the bloody slaughter of Nepal’s royal family confirmed on Thursday what many people in the kingdom had feared to believe – their Crown Prince mowed down his family in a drunken rage before shooting himself.

Captain Rajiv Shahi, a member of the royal family by marriage, went public with his account of what happened in the palace without waiting for an official inquiry ordered by newly crowned King Gyanendra to begin its work.

The government and palace line remains “it was an accident”, but Shahi’s news conference at a military hospital clearly had official sanction of some kind.

“What motivated him to do this I am not sure,” said Captain Rajiv Shahi, who is married to one of the daughters of late King Birendra’s youngest brother and a doctor in the army.

“But then it was Crown Prince Dipendra who murdered the King. Anybody who touches the King is no more what he used to be. He is just a murderer.”

Shahi told a packed news conference in the capital Kathmandu, how Dipendra staggered drunkenly and occasionally fell as he shot his family with a variety of assault rifles.

His version of events was confirmed separately by Maheswar Kumar Singh, the late king’s uncle who was also present and who separately told the BBC:

“One hundred percent, I am really sorry to say, it has been done by him. I’ve seen it.

“I remember he fired the first shot. It was at the ceiling, I think, and then immediately after…kkrrr, kkrrr,” he said, mimicking the sound of an automatic rifle.

Shahi said Dipendra admitted earlier he was drunk. “He told me that he was a little intoxicated. At that time, since it was a family gathering, we thought it best to take him to his room. So his younger brother, myself and Prince Paras (his cousin) escorted him, carried him.”

But Dipendra returned, wearing battle fatigues, to begin his bloody slaughter.

Shahi used a whiteboard to draw a diagram of the scene of Friday’s bloodbath, and occasionally had to compose himself as he recalled the details.

He told how he held a jacket to the dying king’s neck to try to stem the flow of blood from a bullet wound. The king’s stomach wound, he decided, needed less attention.

Family friends who had spoken to survivors said they believed Dipendra had been driven to breaking point by his parents’ opposition to his choice of bride.

Ten people, including Dipendra, died on Friday or later from wounds suffered in the massacre. The incident has left the impoverished Himalayan country in crisis.

New King Gyanendra, confronted by riots after his coronation, has yet to win over a traditionally loyal population. The government is equally insecure in its tenure.

Many ordinary Nepalis, who revere their royal family as gods, refused to believe earlier reports blaming Dipendra.

As some voiced lingering doubts, most were waiting for the results of the official inquiry before closing one of the ugliest chapters in the history of the mountain kingdom.

A member of that inquiry told Reuters the panel had yet to begin work, but would get to the truth in around three days.

Commenting on Shahi’s testimony, Tranath Ranabhatt, the speaker of the lower house, said: “We don’t consider what individuals say outside (the investigation).

“Ours will be an authoritative and detailed report.”

The man appointed to head the inquiry, Chief Justice Keshav Prasad Upadhyaya, said it could take longer than expected.

“I think it will be difficult to complete the investigation in three days,” he told Reuters. “If we don’t finish in time we may have to request for a short extension.”

As the clouds which herald the start of the monsoon season gathered in the hills around the Kathmandu valley, the capital was calm.

A website, http://www.nepalnews.comhttp://www.nepalnews.com/, was carrying details of Shahi’s news conference by late Thursday, almost the first Nepali media to refer to the massacre by anything other than the official line.

It seems certain official media will have to follow suit despite the arrest of the editor and two publishers of the country’s leading newspaper on Wednesday after they published an article by a Maoist leader.

Less certain is what the reaction of the people will be.

The slain king was hugely popular, particularly after ceding absolute power in favour of a constitutional monarchy in 1990. Many had regarded him as an anchor of stability in the kingdom of 22 million people, which is racked by poverty, political feuding and a bloody Maoist rebellion.

Some doubt the new king could command the same respect, and even more are wary of the fact that his son, who is next in line to the throne despite not yet being named crown prince, has a reputation of a ne’er-do-well and playboy.

But Paras, who escaped uninjured from the massacre, comes off well in Shahi’s account.

“Had it not been because of Prince Paras, probably there would not have been so many survivors that day,” Shahi said without elaborating.

One analyst said the legitimacy of the monarchy could be hurt beyond repair if the Nepali people refused to believe that Dipendra was to blame for the carnage.

“If they don’t tell the truth there could be a revolution against the monarchy. It’s a dead end,” political science professor Lok Raj Baral at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan University told Reuters. “The truth has to come out.”

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Nepalis shocked by truth behind palace massacre.

By David Fox

KATHMANDU, June 8 (Reuters) – Nepalis reacted with stunned disbelief on Friday to the first public acknowledgment that the royal family it worshipped as gods, had the foibles of mortals.

As residents of the capital pored over copies of newspapers carrying graphic accounts of last week’s slaughter, few could bear to think of the consequences for the monarchy or the country.

“What to do?” said Alesh Parshop, shaking his head as he read a witness account of how a drunken Crown Prince Dipendra slaughtered the king and queen and seven other members of his family before turning the gun on himself.

The local press, which previously had restricted itself to government accounts of the tragedy being an accident, on Friday could no longer ignore what people were openly discussing anyway.

The witness, a royal by marriage who had cradled the king in his arms as he lay dying, put the blame squarely on Dipendra at a dramatic news conference on Thursday.

“But then it was Crown Prince Dipendra who murdered the King. Anybody who touches the King is no more what he used to be. He is just a murderer,” said Captain Rajiv Shahi, an army doctor married to the daughter of the former king’s younger brother.

In cold print, the truth seemed hard to take.

“This has been a terrible tragedy,” said Farina, accompanying her daughter on a shopping trip. “If the royal family if such a thing can happen, what can we think of them?”

Her’s was a familiar response in the warren of alleys and narrow streets that make up Kathmandu’s historic old quarter.

There was a sense of agitation in the air.

The king of Nepal is venerated as a living incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, and Dipendra briefly inherited that mantle when he was named king as he lay in a coma, dying from a self-inflicted gun shot.

Few thought Dipendra, Eton educated and regarded as fun-loving but popular should retroactively be stripped of the crown.

“What is done is done, said Kalim Suraj, as he prepared to enter a little temple nestled behind the old palace.

What to make, though, of reports that Prince Paras the new king’s son with a patchy and controversial reputation – had helped save the lives of some of his relatives.

The Kathmandu Post, commenting on Shahi’s testimony, said Paras’s role had been “positive, if not heroic”. Paras, although not named crown prince, is next in line to the throne.

Paras .. playboy-turned-hero

New king Gyanendra still needs to win the love of a population stunned by the tragedy. The government’s tenure seems hardly less secure.

But despite greeting his coronation on Monday with rude silence followed by violent rioting, more now seem prepared to give him a chance.

“The new king is the king and we must support him,” said Suraj. “If we blame him for Paras, then we must blame King Birendra for Dipendra.”

Some, however, still believed another hand was behind the tragedy and prefered to wait for an official inquiry to complete its work.

“That is the authentic one, that committee is the authentic one to talk about the incidents and findings of that incident,” said a mourner at a shrine to the slain royals.

The commission is due to report on Monday, but few now expect it to be anything but a foregone conclusion.

“I believe what I have read,” said one man as he waited in line to sign the condolence book at the Royal Palace.

Mourning for slain royals ends as Nepalis await answers.

By David Fox

KATHMANDU, June 10 (Reuters) – Nepal ends its official state mourning for the slain royal family on Sunday as it waits for answers from a commission charged with investigating the massacre.

Few people expect the panel to conclude anything other than that the king and queen and seven of their relatives were gunned down in a drunken rage by Crown Prince Dipendra.

But the wait for a verdict is fuelling speculation and uncertainty in the Himalayan mountain kingdom, where discussing the revered royal family in anything other than hallowed terms is considered taboo.

Officially the June 1 massacre remains an accident caused by an exploding automatic weapon, but witnesses have already gone public to describe how they saw Dipendra mow down his cowering family before shooting himself.

The commission has now interviewed one of the key witnesses army doctor Captain Rajiv Shahi, who was present with his wife, the daughter of the slain king’s brother.

Shahi told a news conference last week how he helped carry a drunken Dipendra to his quarters, only for the Eton-educated heir to the throne to return in combat fatigues and begin the killing spree.

He told also how he held a dying King Birendra in his arms, trying to stem the flow of blood from a fatal neck wound.

Although given just three days to complete its inquiry, the commission has already said it will likely need a few more and hopes to report on Tuesday.

Its task has been made more difficult by the huge divide that exists between the royal family and ordinary Nepalis, few of whom have ever had a glimpse into life behind the palace gates.

The Shah dynasty has ruled the impoverished country for centuries, but even after the advent of multi-party democracy in 1990 – when the king became a constitutional monarch – the palace has remained off limits to commoners.

On Sunday, crowds began gathering early to sign condolence books at the palace and lay flowers at a makeshift shrine opposite its imposing steel gates in central Kathmandu.

Many still cannot believe that their king, believed by loyal subjects to be a living reincarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, could have been murdered by his son.

“I still don’t believe what I have heard, so I will wait of the official result,” said one woman, clutching a bunch of yellow flowers to her chest.

But others had already accepted the realisation that the family they revered as gods was mortal after all.

“It seems like it was Dipendra,” said one man as others in the crowd nodded in agreement. “Maybe there were others, but Dipendra was the one.”

How new King Gyanendra handles the crisis and the findings of the commission will be closely watched by a population which greeted his accession last Monday with rude silence followed by violent rioting.

Many had regarded Birendra as an anchor of stability in the kingdom of 22 million people, which is racked by political feuding and a bloody Maoist rebellion.

Some doubt the new king can command the same respect, and even more are wary of the fact that his son – who is next in line to the throne despite not yet being named crown prince – had a bad reputation compared to his peer and friend, Dipendra.

All this is fuelling conspiracy talk, especially outside the capital where the feuding government’s hold on power is even more tenuous.

Maoist rebels gain influence in impoverished Nepal.

By David Fox

CHAUTARA, Nepal, June 10 (Reuters) – The dusty settlement of Chautara is as far away from an international border as it is possible to get in Nepal, but it still has the air of a frontier town.

Just 65 km (40 miles) west of the capital Kathmandu, Chautara is on a frontier of sorts – the frontier between the government and Maoist rebels who have waged a bloody insurgency for years.

The Maoists are believed to hold sway over almost 50 percent of the impoverished country, gradually gaining influence among a population that has seen little improvement to their lives since multi-party democracy was established in 1990.

More than 1,550 people have been killed in Maoist-related violence across Nepal since the insurgency began in early 1996. In less than a week in April, they killed 69 police officers in a series of attacks on security posts.

Although in most areas the rebels use standard guerrilla tactics against government targets, in others they rule openly, collecting taxes and running local facilities such as schools and health clinics.

A government population census due to start on Sunday will work in only around 40 of 75 districts in Nepal because the Maoists have refused to allow data collectors in areas they control.

So well entrenched are the rebels, they even intend holding their own count in their strongholds, the Kathmandu Post reported on Sunday.

“There are Maoists here, all around, but they don’t give us any problems,” said one man as he sipped tea in a shop on Chautara’s only street.

To reach the town from the capital, you make a bone-jarring three-hour drive along a high ridge overlooking the Kathmandu valley, the Himalayas rising majestically on the horizon.

A series of police and army checkpoints punctuate the journey. Passengers’ names are taken and bags searched for weapons or other signs of Maoist sympathies.

But in the town itself, there is little sign of official rule. The district office stands at the far end of town, opposite a bunkered army post where tough-looking soldiers keep watch from behind heavy machineguns.

The district officer, who won’t give his name, says only that the area is “calm and secure”.

But the Maoists are the last thing on anyone’s mind following the massacre of almost the entire royal family on June 1 allegedly by a drunken Crown Prince Dipendra.

News of the murder and a royal commission appointed to investigate it has reached even the most remote village of this Himalayan mountain kingdom and so too have the conspiracy theories that now abound.

“I think there is a conspiracy here. No one kills their mother and father over a simple matter like this,” said Ram Vinod Chadka as he worked an ancient mechanical printing press in the centre of town.

He was referring to reports that Dipendra’s rage had been sparked by his parents’ opposition to his choice of bride, while others speculate over more sinister palace intrigue.

“People here are just guessing,” said a passerby. “Some are saying it was the army and others are saying this and that. We are really just guessing now.”

How much capital the Maoists can make of the uncertainty gripping the country remains to be seen, but already their influence has been felt.

The editor and two publishers of a leading independent newspaper have been under arrest since Wednesday after publishing an article by a senior Maoist leader who alleged a conspiracy behind the palace murders.

The Maoists, previously anti-monarchist, are touting the conspiracy theory in an effort to further discredit a government that has teetered for months on the edge of crisis.

“This event plays into their hands, allowing them to capitalise through misinformation to create tension and mistrust and destabilise the situation,” said Shridhar Khatri, a political science lecturer at Kathmandu’s Tri University.

“If they come to the mainstream and contest elections, they would be a major force, but if they continue their gruesome acts they won’t be able to win over the people.”

Hindu holy man rides into exile to lay Birendra ghost.

By David Fox

KATHMANDU, June 11 (Reuters) – A wizened old Hindu holy man broke a sacred taboo on Monday, consuming a meal laced with animal marrow, to lay the ghost of Nepal’s murdered King Birendra and take on the woes of the troubled royal family.

The priest, a lifelong vegetarian and member of the highest Brahmin caste, had volunteered his services for the “Katto” ceremony in order to banish the ghost of Birendra from Kathmandu, where the Shah dynasty has occupied the Monkey Throne for centuries.

As he rode across the Bagmati river on elephant back, he stared sombrely ahead. He will never be allowed to return to the Kathmandu Valley and must spend the rest of his life in exile.

Devout Nepalis hope the troubles that have gripped this Himalayan mountain kingdom since the June 1 palace massacre will begin to ease now that one of their religion’s most sacred traditions has been observed.

Birendra, his wife and seven other members of the royal family were gunned down by Crown Prince Dipendra that day, apparently in a drunken rage fuelled by his parents’ opposition to his choice of bride.

Because he was named king as he lay dying in a coma, a similar ceremony will be performed for Dipendra on Wednesday.

Traditionally, the priest is supposed to eat marrow from a bone collected during the cremation of the dead monarch, but one Hindu scholar said he believed animal marrow had now been substituted.

“It is the symbolism of the act rather than the actual act that constitutes the acceptance of the undesirable,” said Raj Simil Ghopal. “But the consumption of animal parts is heinous in itself, hence the banishment.”

Monday’s ceremony began under a scorching sun where the priest, dressed only in a plain white dhoti (sarong), busied himself with ritual washing and prayers beneath an army canopy erected on the banks of the Bagmati river, the boundary of old Kathmandu.

Throughout the morning, well-wishers arrived bearing gifts, clasping their hands together and murmuring “namaste” (blessings) as they went on their way.

They included Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, whose handling of the massacre has seriously diminished his ruling party’s chances of retaining its shaky grip on government in elections for 20 national assembly seats on June 27.

A royal commission made up of two of his closest allies is due to report on the massacre on Thursday, but few expect the verdict to conclude anything other than naming Dipendra the murderer despite a swirl of conspiracy theories.

The new King Gyanendra, Birendra’s brother, was not present, but by tradition he was not supposed to be anyway.

As the priest dressed in elaborate royal garments and donned a replica of the plumed Nepali crown to assume a likeness of Birendra, his aides took stock of the gifts presented to mark his sacrifice.

Although it may be a lonely exile, it won’t be without comfort.

New televisions sets, radios, blankets and pillows were displayed, some still in their wrappings.

Walking sticks and umbrellas were piled in one corner, while a new briefcase sat atop a desk that would have been more in place in a high-tech office than in a ceremony that dates back centuries.

A shiny brass primus stove, an electric fan and a collection of gaudy plastic combs had also been donated, as had baskets of food – some already attracting the attention of the swarms of flies that thrive on the banks of the stinking river.

Nearby, the elephant Moti Prasad munched contentedly on reeds growing from the riverbank.

The elephant had got the ceremony off to an inauspicious start during its 130-km (80-mile) trek from the Royal Chitwan National Park to the capital.

The Kathmandu Post reported on Monday that Kali Bista, a mother of three daughters, had been picked up and crushed by the elephant on Saturday as she tried to walk under its belly – a superstition that is supposed to encourage the birth of a son.

But Monday’s ceremony ended more auspiciously.

The priest, shielded from the sun by a bright red parasol carried by three mahouts, mounted the elephant which remained on best behaviour despite the jostling around its legs of photographers and cameramen trying for a unique shot.

It lumbered down to the river and, with the barest of encouragement from the mahouts, waded in, water swirling up its flanks as it crossed the 50 metres (yards) to the other side.

Devout Hindus who could get close enough gave it a hearty smack as it went on its way, hoping to help rid the capital of the tragedy that has unfolded.

“It is a good sign,” said Ghopal. “If the elephant refuses to go, it could mean bad omens.”

Nepal massacre report due as suspect’s ghost banished.

By David Fox

KATHMANDU, June 14 (Reuters) – A commission investigating the massacre of almost the entire Nepal royal family was due to complete its report on Thursday as the nation prepared to banish the ghost of the prince believed responsible for the slaughter.

The report is widely expected to conclude that Crown Prince Dipendra gunned down his father, King Birendra, and eight other members of the royal family in a drunken rage on June 1 – apparently because his parents disapproved of his choice of bride.

It was not clear, however, when the report would be made public. Government sources have told Reuters that it will be presented to new King Gyanendra to study and its findings released on Monday.

As an anxious population waited for news of the report, traditionalists prepared an ancient Hindu farewell for Dipendra that they hope will banish the ill fortune that has struck the palace.

Although Dipendra was believed to have been responsible for the murders, as Crown Prince he was named king as he lay dying in a coma from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound.

As a monarch who died tragically, traditional Hindus believe he must now have a “katto” ceremony performed on his behalf.

The ceremony involves a Brahman priest deliberately defiling himself to assume Dipendra’s woes. The priest, a vegetarian all his life, will eat a meal laced with animal marrow, dress as Dipendra and leave the Kathmandu Valley on elephant back.

He will be banished for the rest of his life, supported in exile by gifts and money donated by wellwishers anxious to rid the capital of the bad luck that has plunged the nation of 22 million people into crisis.

A similar ceremony held on Monday for Birendra was attended by senior government officials including beleaguered Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and the two-man investigating commission.

With Dipendra’s apparent guilt now being openly discussed as well as reported in local newspapers, it is unclear if they will attend Thursday’s ceremony.

In its most critical commentary to date, the Kathmandu Post said on Thursday that it was time for people to stop believing in conspiracy theories and accept the inevitable.

“It is an exhausting exercise trying to understand the workings of a sane brain that snaps and turns a person into a merciless killer,” it said.

“So the simplest thing to do has been to take the easier way out believe in the more ‘plausible’ conspiracy theories. Never mind that these theories have larger holes in them they are easier to digest.”

The impoverished Himalayan mountain kingdom, racked by a Maoist rebellion that has cost over 1,600 lives since 1995, has been in the grip of a political crisis since last year with parliament failing to sit because of a boycott by opposition legislators who make up nearly half the 200 seats.

Development programmes have been stalled, funding for rural projects delayed and revenue collection vital to help the country escape from a foreign debt that makes up 50 percent of GDP are almost non-existent.

Koirala, also under pressure from a dissident faction within his own ruling Nepal Congress party, needs to ensure the rioting that greeted King Gyanendra’s accession is not repeated following the report’s release.

“Even before the tragic shootout took place, the angry and frustrated youths of Nepal were squirming impatiently to lay hands on a cause to vent their pent-up emotions – against the government, against anyone,” the Post said.

“They’ve found one now,” it added.

Panic as elephant turns tail on Nepali royal rite.

By David Fox

KATHMANDU, June 14 (Reuters) – The ghost of Nepal’s Crown Prince Dipendra appeared reluctant to leave home on Thursday.

Despite the urgings of a Hindu crowd anxious to rid the capital of bad luck, the elephant chosen to convey Dipendra’s spirit into exile at first refused to cross the Bagmati river for a ceremonial cleansing that dates back centuries.

Alarmed by the vigorous slaps and shouts of the faithful, it trumpeted wildly before turning tail and chasing a group of dignitaries up a narrow path.

They scattered in panic, leaving a trail of slippers and Nepali caps in their wake.

It was yet another bad omen for a palace that has been rocked to its foundations by the murder of almost the entire royal family on June 1.

The “Katto” rite – reserved for monarchs who have met tragic ends – was being performed for Dipendra despite widespread belief that he was responsible for the slaughter.

A commission later on Thursday confirmed what everyone in this country of 22 million people had been talking about – Dipendra mowed down his family, including his parents the King and Queen, in a hail of automatic gunfire before turning a pistol on himself.

He lay in a coma for three days, during which he was named his father Birendra’s successor despite his apparent guilt. But died three days later without regaining consciousness.

As at an earlier Katto ceremony for his father, a Hindu priest broke one of the ancient religion’s most sacred taboos in order to assume Dipendra’s woes.

The elderly priest – a vegetarian all his life – ate a meal laced with animal fat before going into exile in a remote part of the Himalayan mountain kingdom.

To ease his banishment, he was presented with an assortment of gifts – a television set, electric fan, sofa, bed, desk and clothing.

The priest then donned court attire, a replica of the Nepali plumed crown and a pair of Dipendra’s own shoes – several sizes too big – before mounting the elephant.

After its initial reluctance to cross, the elephant was finally encouraged to lumber through the polluted Bagmati followed by a fusillade of stones and rotten fruit thrown by a now vengeful crowd.

It was an ignominious end for a prince who many Nepalis believed would have made an ideal heir to the throne.

But in the aftermath of the slaughter, even traditionally loyal monarchists were beginning to revise their opinion of the royal family – and Dipendra in particular.

Groomed for the throne from birth, Dipendra – who would have been 30 next Thursday – attended Britain’s exclusive Eton school where he is remembered as being popular, but occasionally moody.

He was reprimanded for buying alcohol for fellow pupils and also once brandished a revolver he had hidden in his room.

His penchant for guns was confirmed on Thursday by the commission, which said Dipendra frequently took out weapons from the royal armoury and liked to carry a pistol.

Although it is taboo to discuss the royal family in terms other than reverential, Nepalis are now starting to recall some of his more erratic behaviour – some of which the commission confirmed.

He was said to be something of a womaniser and family members say the shooting spree was sparked by his parents’ opposition to his choice of bride.

The commission said Dipendra’s last conversation on his mobile phone, shortly before he went on the rampage, was a drunken one to Devyani Rana, with whom he had a relationship.

Divyeni ... I'll call you later!

Rumours of a drug habit spread. The commission said Dipendra had smoked hashish shortly before the killing spree and that his aides regularly prepared hashish cigarettes for their crown prince.

At the Royal Nepal Golf Club, where he was patron, members recall he had an enthusiastic disregard for the rules, but a love for hitting the ball long distances.

Yet compared to his cousin Paras, who survived the massacre and is now heir apparent to a throne now occupied by his father, Dipendra’s uncle Gyanendra, Dipendra was seen as a saint.

“The heroic image of Paras protecting his sisters and the image of the crown prince wielding a gun at them is something that the Nepali populace is not going to accept,” a commentary in the Kathmandu Post said on Thursday.

“It is too difficult to think, to imagine, the circumstances that might have led to the wild rampage. It is an exhausting exercise to try to understand the workings of a sane brain that snaps and turns a person to a merciless killer.”

Official probe blames prince for Nepal massacre.

By David Fox

KATHMANDU, June 14 (Reuters) – Nepal’s Crown Prince Dipendra gunned down almost his entire family, including his parents the King and Queen, in a drink-and drug-fueled rage, an official investigation concluded on Thursday.

The royal commission said witness after witness had testified that a drunken Dipendra was responsible for the June 1 palace massacre and had fatally shot himself afterwards.

“His Royal Highness the Crown Prince…fired rat-tat-tat at His Majesty the King,” Taranath Ranabhatt, parliamentary speaker and a commission member, told a news conference broadcast live to a nation still reeling from the events of two weeks ago.

He said Dipendra had drunk alcohol and smoked hashish before killing his parents and seven other members of the royal family.

The findings confirmed what the 22 million people of the world’s only Hindu kingdom had feared – despite an initial line from palace officials that the killings had been an accident.

But whether Nepal’s people accept the commission’s findings that it was a lone, crazed act remains to be seen – there is much talk of conspiracy on the streets of Kathmandu.

Riots broke out after the new king, Gyanendra, the late King Birendra’s brother, was crowned last week.

Many monarchists refused to believe that Dipendra, the well-liked, 29-year-old Eton-educated heir to the throne, could have gunned down his family in a drunken rage prompted apparently by his parents’ disapproval of his choice of bride.

But the commission’s report, available on the Internet at http://www.ntc.net.nphttp://www.ntc.net.np/, found that he had smoked a joint of hashish before the shootings and that his orderly regularly rolled hashish-laced cigarettes for him.

The inquiry also said the last call made on Dipendra’s mobile phone, minutes before he went on the rampage, was to Devyani Rana, the woman with whom he had a close relationship.

Speaker Ranabhatt said Devyani had given testimony to Nepali embassy officials in India after fleeing Kathmandu in the aftermath of the slaughter but had refused to comment on the nature of her relationship with Dipendra.

The crown prince’s last words to her were: “I’m now going to sleep, goodnight. We’ll talk tomorrow.”

But in fact he dressed in combat fatigues and, with five weapons including a commando M-16 assault rifle – used by some of the world’s most elite troops – fired over 75 rounds in the killing spree.

He wore black gloves.

He gurgled when aides found him after he had shot himself.

Before Dipendra’s guilt was officially confirmed, traditionalists on Thursday bade him farewell in an ancient Hindu ceremony they hoped would banish the palace’s ill fortune.

As crown prince, Dipendra had been proclaimed king as he lay dying in a coma from the self-inflicted gunshot wound.

And as a monarch who died tragically, traditional Hindus believe he too needed a “katto” ceremony performed on his behalf – as for his murdered father on Monday.

A vegetarian Brahman priest deliberately defiled himself to assume Dipendra’s woes by eating a meal laced with animal fat. He then dressed as Dipendra and crossed the Bagmati River on an elephant.

At first, the elephant appeared reluctant to go. As Nepali dignitaries slapped the creature to send the bad luck on its way, the elephant turned tail and chased them up a narrow path.

Once brought under control, it lumbered across the river – this time to a fusillade of stones and rotting fruit thrown by the now vengeful onlookers.

The priest will be banished for the rest of his life, supported in exile by gifts and money donated by well-wishers.

The impoverished Himalayan nation, poised strategically between nuclear powers China and India, has been racked by a Maoist rebellion that has cost over 1,600 lives since 1995 and is in the grip of a political crisis because of a parliamentary boycott by opposition deputies.

Even before the shootout, angry youths sought a cause to vent pent-up emotions – “against the government, against anyone,” the Kathmandu Post newspaper said.

“They’ve found one now.”

Nepal king praised for handling of massacre probe.

By David Fox

KATHMANDU, June 15 (Reuters) – Nepal’s new King Gyanendra won praise on Friday from analysts who think his handling of a report on the massacre that brought him to the throne may have gained him the people’s loyalty.

As night fell, the Nepali capital remained calm as residents digested the official news that a drunk Crown Prince Dipendra was responsible for slaying almost his entire family before killing himself.

Gyanendra’s coronation following the June 1 massacre was greeted with violent rioting by a population unhappy with the initial explanation that it was an accident, and suspicious of a conspiracy to kill a beloved king.

But the truth, contained in an inquiry’s report broadcast live to the nation on Thursday, ended nearly two weeks of rumour and uncertainty over the affair.

It pointed the finger firmly at Dipendra, saying he had carried out the massacre in a drug and drink-fuelled rage.

Gyanendra’s insistence on the report being released just minutes after he had first seen it has won him praise in a society more used to the palace being the residence of gods than something answerable to the people.

“The new king naming the (investigating) panel, the selecting of its members and decision to make the report public immediately were extremely praiseworthy,” said Sridhar Khatri, a political science lecturer at Tribhuvan University.

Rabindra Khanal, also a political science lecturer, said the population would accept the report because it was official and came from the king.

His views were echoed by the man in the street.

“Well if that’s what they say then it must be true,” said Ranji Balup as he prepared to open his store. “I just hope things can return to normal now.”

Gyanendra has already ensured political support.

Virtually every party gave him a vote of confidence after he pledged to uphold the constitutional monarchy that his brother, slain King Birendra, first introduced in 1990.

“The future of the monarchy is essentially going to rest on the responses the new king shows to the public and his respect for the constitution,” analyst Khanal said.

“If we are to go by decisions (made so far) it is extremely encouraging.”

But the population may never view the monarchy in quite the same light now they have had a unique insight to life at the palace.

The report told how Dipendra had a penchant for guns and frequently had aides sign out weapons from the royal arsenal.

It detailed how his adjutant and orderly were both aware of his drug habit and regularly rolled hashish cigarettes for him.

And it revealed the last call he made on his mobile telephone, just before he went on the rampage, was to Divyani Rana, the woman his parents apparently disapproved of as a potential future queen.

His last slurred words to her were: “I’m now going to sleep, goodnight. We’ll talk tomorrow.”

He then donned battle fatigues and black gloves and began firing over 75 rounds from weapons including a commando M-16 automatic rifle, used by some of the world’s most elite troops.

He killed nine people – including his parents, the king and queen, and then turned a pistol on himself, the report said.

“This is what they say, but how do we know it is true,” said Kumar Rai, a vegetable vendor. He, like thousands of other residents of the capital, still believe there was a conspiracy.

A court ordered the release of the editor and two publishing executives held on sedition charges since last week when their newspaper carried an article by a Maoist leader alleging such a conspiracy.

The publishing executives were told they would be called to court at a future date – as was the editor, who also had to pay a bond of 2,000 rupees ($27).

The impoverished Himalayan nation, poised strategically between nuclear powers China and India, has been racked by a Maoist rebellion that has cost over 1,600 lives since 1996 and is in the grip of a political crisis because of a parliamentary boycott by opposition deputies.

Even before the palace tragedy, opposition parties had mobilised angry youths into staging a series of strikes that have further crippled an economy struggling to stay afloat.

The new king may give them a new cause.

“We need kingship in Nepal for our own survival,” said lecturer Khanal, “(But) the king should be taken as an institution and not as a person.”

Last rites for Nepal royals as rebel attacks resume.

By David Fox

KATHMANDU, June 16 (Reuters) – Nepal held a last traditional Hindu ceremony for its slain king and queen on Saturday as a full return to normal in the country was signalled by a resumption of attacks by Maoist rebels.

Interior ministry officials said over 200 rebels attacked a police post at Nagar, Western Nepal, forcing 36 policemen to surrender.

The rebels captured a substantial array of weapons in Friday’s attack, which lasted for nearly three hours and injured four policemen, officials said.

It was the first significant incident by Maoist rebels since the bloody palace massacre of June 1 when Crown Prince Dipendra killed his parents and seven other royal family members in a drink and drug-fuelled rage.

Dipendra shot himself after the massacre, but lay in a coma for three days before dying.

The Maoists, avowed anti-monarchists, assumed a curious pro-royal stance in the aftermath of the massacre. Although they did not announce a ceasefire, statements from their leaders urged the population to unite against what it called a conspiracy behind the palace killings.

The Maoist rebellion – which has cost over 1,600 lives since 1996 – is just one of the problems facing new King Gyanendra as he tries to win the loyalty of a nation shocked by the palace tragedy.

On Saturday he had spiritual matters to attend to, overseeing a private Hindu ceremony at the palace for his brother, slain King Birendra, and the other murdered royals.

The ceremony is traditionally held 13 days after the death of a king.

No security incidents were reported overnight in the capital, Kathmandu, following the publication of a report which pointedly blamed Dipendra for the massacre.

Thousands of people rioted after Gyanendra’s coronation last week, angered at official explanations that the massacre was an accident and suspicious of a conspiracy to kill a beloved king.

Newspapers on Friday said the findings of the royal commission left many questions unanswered, chiefly a motive for the attack.

Friends say Dipendra was upset at his parents’ opposition to his choice of bride, and the last call he made on his mobile phone before the slaughter began was to Divyani Rana, the daughter of a leading local politician with whom he had “a relationship”.

“It says who, but does not say why,” the Kathmandu Post said.

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About FoxFromZim

I am a journalist from Zimbabwe, currently based in Singapore. I report chiefly on international affairs, specialising in politics, war and natural disasters when not playing golf badly.
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