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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 April, 2004, 11:01 GMT 12:01 UK
Nepal's king makes plea for peace
King Gyanendra
King Gyanendra has faced numerous protests
Nepal's King Gyanendra has used his new year message to call for peace and consensus to pave the way for elections within the next 12 months.

After eight years of Maoist insurgency that have cost 9,000 lives, the king demanded "a year of peace".

Opposition parties have been protesting since the king cancelled elections and formed his own government in 2002.

Hundreds of protesters have been arrested in the last week after they defied a ban on political rallies.

Human rights groups complained about the arrests and the conditions the protesters were held in, although the government maintained the vast majority were quickly released.

Opposition anger

Marking the start of Nepal's year 2061, the king said: "Highest priority must be accorded to the creation of an environment wherein the governance of the country can be handed over to elected representatives by initiating elections to the House of Representatives [by April 2005].

It is clear that peace and security are the Nepalese people's prime desire
King Gyanendra
"All those who have faith in multi-party democracy must be able to participate in these elections without let or hindrance."

But although he renewed his promise of elections, he did not specify a date.

Opposition activists want King Gyanendra to loosen his grip on government, over which he has exercised executive powers since sacking the prime minister and cabinet in 2002, dissolving parliament and appointing his own government.

The king returned to the capital on Sunday following a tour of the country, with protests in Kathmandu continuing.

Police crash through a burning barricade during protests on Monday
The opposition want to be included in the government prior to elections
In the message issued by the royal palace, the king said: "It is clear that peace and security are the Nepalese people's prime desire as well as the nation's necessity."

A rebel army of peasants, led by left-wing ideologues, has been waging the uprising in Nepal.

They want the monarchy abolished in favour of a communist republic.

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