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Saturday, 2 June, 2001, 23:11 GMT 00:11 UK
Birendra: Nepal's monarch of change
King Birendra will go down in history as a monarch who led Nepal through changing political times.

He ascended to the throne in 1972, just two years after marriage, as a result of the sudden death of his father, King Mahendra.

He inherited a political system in which the king held considerable autocratic powers and political parties were banned.

King Birendra
The king was a popular figure in the villages of Nepal
But by the 1980s, the restraints imposed on political organisations were starting to ease and liberal student-led groups were starting to spring up demanding constitutional change in Nepal.

The turning point came in November 1990, when as a result of this growing popular pressure, King Birendra agreed to reduce the powers of the monarchy dramatically.

He remained the country's head of state, but handed over executive power to a council of ministers headed by the prime minister.

International education

Born in Kathmandu in 1945, King Birendra was the first of Nepal's monarchs to get a formal education.

After eight years at a Jesuit school in Darjeeling, India, he attended England's prestigious Eton College between 1959 and 1964.

Whilst there he was given the nickname "Nipple" by contemporaries.

The king continued his international education by studying at the University of Tokyo and spent a year at Harvard where he studied political theory.

Common touch

A soft-spoken man with glasses and a moustache, King Birendra was 10th in his line to rule Nepal and considered by some to be an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu.

On formal occasions, the king was known for stilted speeches full of jargon that did not generate much inspiration.

He was more at ease and best liked for listening closely to the problems of common people, especially poor villagers in a country that is among the poorest in the world with high unemployment and low literacy.

Dressed in the traditional short coat worn over loose trousers and a black Nepali cap, the soft-spoken king was a familiar figure to the people of his country.

Listening monarch

He loved to fly, and whenever he could get away from his palace duties would pilot a helicopter to remote villages.

There he listened to people's problems and directed officials to find solutions.

In recent years, both King Birendra and Queen Aiswarya had focused on development projects, trying to improve Nepal's difficult economic situation.

But the country's image has consistently been tarnished by violence involving an armed struggle by self-proclaimed Maoist groups who were demanding an end to the constitutional monarchy and the setting up of a Communist republic.


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