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Sunday, 2 June, 2002, 19:22 GMT 20:22 UK
Bhutan celebrates king's reign
King Jigme Singye Wangchuk
King Jigme has ruled for the last 30 years

Celebrations have been held in the Bhutanese capital, Thimphu, to mark the 30th anniversary of King Jigme Singye Wangchuk's accession to the throne and the 28th anniversary of his coronation.

Hundreds of Bhutanese wearing national dress attended an archery and dancing festival to commemorate the event in the secluded Himalayan kingdom.

Bhutan map
Although these celebrations were steeped in Bhutanese tradition, evidence of the country's closer contacts with the outside world was apparent everywhere.

The archers participating in the tournament used modern, Olympic-standard, rather than traditional bamboo, Bhutanese bows.

Although hundreds of spectators at the tournament were all dressed in traditional clothes, people could be seen talking on mobile telephones, and many younger people left the tournament early to watch the World Cup on cable television.

Thimphu - Bhutan's capital
Thimphu - Bhutan's capital

But this was primarily a celebration of the reign of King Jigme Singye Wangchuk.

He came to the throne 30 years ago and commands enormous respect from most of his countrymen.

The king is very much a monarch of the people.

His telephone number - and that of his four wives - can be found in the Thimphu directory.

He lives in an unostentatious wooden house on the outskirts of the city.

His subjects have a legal right to demand an audience with him, mostly to settle land disputes.

King Jigme is currently spearheading the campaign to turn his country into a constitutional monarchy with its first written constitution.

Government ministers predict that will happen within about five years.

Refugee problem

Admirers of the king point out that he has repeatedly shown a strong sense of duty to Bhutan since coming to throne in 1972.

He seldom leaves the country and has strongly supported efforts to preserve its cultural and environmental heritage from Western influences.

Perhaps the only major blemish during his reign is the presence of around a 100,000 Nepali-speaking refugees in camps in Nepal.

They say they were forced to leave Bhutan over a decade ago because they were discriminated against.

The government argues that not all the refugees are from Bhutan and is currently in negotiations with Nepal to determine their future.

See also:

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