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Last Updated: Friday, 7 May, 2004, 14:14 GMT 15:14 UK
Nepal's embattled PM
By Charles Haviland
BBC correspondent in Kathmandu

Nepalese Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa
Thapa said he resigned in "the interests of the nation"
Reading out his resignation statement on television, Surya Bahadur Thapa had the air of a finance minister announcing budget allocations.

He did not have the look of a man beset by crisis.

But he admitted that the country was going through "a very difficult phase".

Recent developments had made it almost inevitable that Mr Thapa would have to resign as Nepal's prime minister.

Even since before he took up office last June, there have been opposition demonstrations against King Gyanendra's suspension of democracy.

In the past five weeks the protests have been daily, frequently violent, and marked by thousands of arrests.

'Chaotic governance'

Perhaps even worse was this week's Nepal Development Forum, in which the government met key donors.

Protesters and police clash in Kathmandu. Archive picture
Opposition groups have been mounting daily protests

The government failed to get the aid pledges it wanted and had to listen to the World Bank's delegate saying donors were not prepared to write "a blank cheque for more of the same chaotic governance".

The donors demanded democracy, a settling of the bloody conflict with Maoist rebels, and an improvement in the ever-worsening human rights situation.

With Mr Thapa and his government gone, many observers are saying the king would be foolish to appoint another premier associated, as Mr Thapa was, with the pre-democracy era before 1990.

The five opposition parties which have been leading the protests in the streets say that, having held 191 of the 205 seats in the last parliament, they should choose a consensus prime minister.

King 'mistrustful'

But, despite saying he wants to remain a constitutional monarch, Gyanendra has proved to be a far more interventionist king than his late brother, Birendra, slain in a family massacre three years ago.

Nepal's King Gyanendra
The king has pledged general elections by April 2005

He is mistrustful of the five parties' provisional prime ministerial candidate, Madhav Kumar Nepal of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist).

Mr Nepal is also opposed by Nepal's two giant neighbours, India and China, and by the United States. All three fear his party may be infiltrated by the Maoists, despite its reputation of being only mildly left-wing.

The king may prefer GP Koirala, leader of the biggest opposition party, the Nepali Congress, as prime minister.

He is also thought to favour two other Congress figures.

One, Taranath Ranabhatt, was speaker of the last parliament and headed the judicial commission into the royal massacre.

'Ms Clean'

The other, Shailaja Acharya, is a niece of GP Koirala who has however disagreed with the tactics of the pro-democracy protests.

She has a reputation as "Ms Clean" and, if appointed, would be Nepal's first woman prime minister.

Many Nepalis, fed up at the political bickering, will be relieved should the king and the parties agree on a new prime minister.

But they might well see it all as a sideshow given the eight-year-old Maoist uprising, which continues to kill people almost daily.

The Maoists say they are ready to talk and the opposition parties say they are willing to try to bring the rebels into the mainstream.

Ordinary people will be hoping the words are translated into concrete results.

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