04 June 2001

Speculation rife over happenings on Friday night

4 June 2001
The Times of India


Times of India News Service

KATHMANDU: In the first official admission that King Birendra and seven other members of the Nepal royal family died of gunshot wounds, Prime Minister G P Koirala and Prince Gyanendra said in separate statements on Sunday that the tragedy occurred when an automatic rifle went off accidentally'. However, they did not mention who fired the shots.

Prior to the broadcast of Gyanendra's statement on Radio Nepal on Sunday morning, the official radio and television stations here only spoke of the swargarohan'', or demise'', of King Birendra and Queen Aishwariya, without mentioning the cause of the death. The government-owned newspaper, Rising Nepal, spoke cryptically of an unanticipated incident''.

The marked absence of the commander-in-chief of the Nepalese armed forces, General Prajjwal Shamsher Rana, from Saturday's cremation of King Birendra and the failure of the official media to mention his name in any context since Friday's brutal massacre at the royal palace is leading to speculation about whether the C-in-C's exclusion is linked in any way to the events leading up to the assassination of the late king.

According to sources in the ruling Nepali Congress, General Rana was not present at the crucial Saturday afternoon sitting of the Raj Parishad, or privy council, which declared crown prince Deependra as the new king. As C-in-C, Rana is an ex-officio member of the council.

In fact, prior to the council's sitting, Prime Minister G P Koirala held a two-hour, closed-door meeting with three other members - Chief Justice Keshav Prasad Upadhyaya, ex-prime minister Marich Man Singh and standing committee chairman Kesar Jang Rai Majhi. After reaching an agreement amongst themselves on declaring Deependra king and Prince Gyanendra regent, the decision was taken to a plenary session of the council for rubber-stamping. Some members protested, demanding to be given the full details of Friday's incident first, but in the end the decision was ratified.

Given the extraordinary opaqueness that pervades officialdom here, and especially everything pertaining to the royal assassination, it is virtually impossible to establish whether there has indeed been a fall-out between Gen Rana and the government. Though no one here is suggesting any army role in Friday's tragedy, it is possible that Rana is being blamed either for lax security or for giving three high-performance automatic rifles to Deependra a few days before the incident, apparently for him to test. There is also speculation that Koirala is upset he was informed about the massacre at 11:15 pm, two hours after it had occurred.

One MP told The Times of India on condition of anonymity that the absence of Gen Rana and the failure of the government to give a digestible version of the incident make it imperative for parliament to convene and demand that the full facts be placed before it. Many here are appalled at the lack of official information about the incident even 48 hours after it occurred. One lawyer said, "People have a right to know. It is humiliating that I should have to turn to the foreign media for news about Nepal."

Some shops reopened Sunday and thousands of people came on foot to pay floral tributes to the late king. There were a few spontaneous demonstrations near the royal palace in the evening with youths demanding that the killer of Birendra be hanged.

Barring the weekly Nepali language newspaper Himal Khabarpatrika, which brought a special bulletin Sunday morning with a full account of the bizarre events at the Royal Palace on Friday night, all other local newspapers continued to play safe, reporting only the official version with some minor embellishments.

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