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Last Updated: Sunday, 23 April 2006, 06:55 GMT 07:55 UK
Stage set for Nepal showdown
By Sanjoy Majumder
BBC News, Kathmandu

Protests in Kathmandu
The alliance has been united in opposition - but what next?

With Nepal's seven-party political alliance soundly rejecting King Gyanendra's offer that they name a new prime minister, the stage is set for a showdown.

The opposition says the king's offer does not address their central concerns, and opposition leaders have pledged to continue the protests, now entering a third week.

Many believe the opposition cannot embrace a king who has become so unpopular with the Nepalese public.

And although the seven party alliance has been taking the lead, the protests have clearly assumed a life of their own.

On Saturday, for the first time since the protests began, protesters were able to break through police cordons and come to within a few kilometres of the royal palace.

This is now very much a people's protest.

And the overwhelming sentiment is that any decision on the role of the monarchy in Nepal now has to be left to the people, and not to King Gyanendra.

We no longer want to remain a monarchy - the king must abdicate
Ravi Thapa, protester

King Gyanendra's speech on Friday inviting the opposition to name a new prime minister was a significant climb-down from his recently stated positions.

In earlier reactions to the protests, he played down the dissent as being confined to a few.

He also suggested it was being stoked by Maoist insurgents, who have waged a decade-long insurgency to overthrow the monarchy.

Now he says he is prepared to hand over power to the politicians from whom he seized direct control in February 2005.

Divide and rule?

But reactions from the parties have been negative.

Many of them believe the speech is merely a tactic by the king to continue to retain his position.

Others say he simply has not gone far enough.

"The king has not addressed the central issue which is that he restore the parliament that he suspended last year," a former foreign minister, Chakra Prasad Bastola, told the BBC.

The king has consistently maintained that he will call fresh elections by next year.

But the political parties want elections to a constituent assembly that has the power to change the constitution - a move the palace has resisted all along.

Some observers believe that the speech is a clever move by the king to shift attention from himself to the political parties.

Protests in Kathmandu
The question is, how will people on the streets react?

The parties are a divisive lot and have in the past often been embroiled in a bitter struggle.

Up until now, they have been united in their opposition to the king.

But many say they would have found it difficult to name a prime minister acceptable to all seven in the opposition alliance.

"If the seven party alliance is unable to utilise the opportunity they have been given, then it gives him an opportunity to once again exercise his powers, perhaps even use military force to quell the street protests," says analyst Umanga Pandey.

The onus is, however, also on the Nepal's public, especially the hundreds of thousands of protesters who have taken to the streets of the capital in the recent days.

Many of them say that the king's concessions are too little, too late.

"This is not what we came out on the streets for," said one protester, Ravi Thapa.

"We want power to be handed over to us. We no longer want to remain a monarchy - the king must abdicate."

Rhoderick Chalmers of the International Crisis Group says much depends on how the protesters react in the coming days and also how the security forces deal with the situation.

"The question is, will the people on the streets continue or will they be satisfied with what they have achieved?" he told the BBC.

"And will the security forces act with restraint?"

Nepal is the world's only Hindu kingdom and King Gyanendra represents a line of monarchs that has ruled over it almost continuously since 1768.

But with growing support for a republic the question is, can he do enough to save his monarchy?

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