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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 December 2005, 10:41 GMT
Bhutan king announces abdication
King Jigme Singye Wangchuk of Bhutan
The king has moved to end direct royal rule in the Buddhist kingdom
The king of Bhutan says he will step down when the country holds its first national democratic elections in 2008, state media reported.

King Jigme Singye Wangchuck said he would be succeeded as leader of the tiny and remote Himalayan kingdom by his son, the crown prince.

The king, who has ruled for 33 years, gave up absolute power in 1998.

He currently rules in conjunction with the government, an assembly and a royal advisory council.

'Parliamentary democracy'

Speaking in a remote village three days' drive from the capital, Thimpu, the king told thousands of yak herders, monks, farmers, and students that he would begin handing over responsibility to the crown prince immediately.

Map of Bhutan
Country is about 38,000 sq km (15,000 sq miles) - sixth of the size of the UK
Hereditary monarchy established in 1907
Only 6,000 tourists a year allowed to visit
Smoking is banned
First introduced TV in 1999
King Wangchuck has four wives, all of whom are sisters
Crown Prince Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck is 25 and unmarried

"I would like our people to know that the first national election to elect a government under a system of parliamentary democracy will take place in 2008," the 50-year-old told the crowd gathered in Trashiyangtse.

In a speech published in the state newspaper, King Wangchuck said he had every confidence that the people of Bhutan would be able to choose the political party best able to provide good governance and serve the interests of the nation.

The government has already said it plans to appoint an election commissioner before the end of 2005 to draw up constituency boundaries and mock voting sessions.

A draft constitution provides for two houses of parliament - a 75-member national assembly and a 25-member national council - with the king as head of state.

Correspondents say the king likes to project the image of simple lifestyle, preferring to work in a small log cabin above the capital while his fortress-like palace is used by his four wives, all of whom are sisters.

See how Bhutan is changing

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Bhutan unveils new constitution
27 Mar 05 |  South Asia
Tiny Bhutan mulls small constitution
01 Dec 04 |  South Asia
Has TV changed Bhutan?
17 Jun 04 |  Entertainment
Bhutan moves towards democracy
07 Dec 02 |  South Asia
Country profile: Bhutan
27 Oct 05 |  Country profiles

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