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Last Updated: Sunday, 30 April 2006, 17:40 GMT 18:40 UK
Nepal MPs back new constitution
Reconvened Nepali assembly
Nepali MPs were meeting for the first time in four years
Nepal's parliament has backed elections for a body to draft a new constitution that would decide the role of monarchy.

The move came after new Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala was sworn in by King Gyanendra - who ended direct royal rule after weeks of violent protests.

The election of a constituent assembly is a key demand of Maoist rebels, who favour the abolition of the monarchy.

In his address to MPs, Mr Koirala urged the Maoist rebels to renounce violence and join peace talks immediately.

The prime minister, who is 84, did not sit through the four-hour debate, owing to his poor health.

Senior MP Sushil Koirala told parliament on his behalf: "The election to the constituent assembly is necessary to solve the grave problems facing the country."

Nepalese Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala
The establishment of peace and democracy is the national aspiration
Girija Prasad Koirala

The proposal was not put to a vote but was approved verbally.

The debate had begun with the prime minister urging Maoist rebels to take part in peace talks.

"I request them to renounce violence and come to the process of dialogue," he told MPs on Sunday.

The guerrillas - who hold much of the country - declared a three-month ceasefire after the king yielded to public demands last Monday to reinstate parliament.

Mr Koirala said peace was the foremost desire of Nepal's people, and that politicians should meet that aspiration.

Clipping royal wings?

The BBC's Charles Haviland in Kathmandu says it is little wonder that peace talks are top of the agenda now because any elections would be difficult given the violence in the countryside.

Nepal got a new constitution 16 years ago when multiparty democracy was first brought in.

Maoist rebels in Nepal
Maoist rebels are fighting for a Communist republic

But parties opposed to King Gyanendra, who are now forming a government, say it leaves too much power in the monarch's hands and must be drastically changed or scrapped.

Our correspondent says there is a particular desire to abolish his role as supreme commander of the army. The resolution does not say when constituent assembly elections will be held.

It is the fourth time Mr Koirala has served as head of government.

Mr Koirala leads his party with an iron fist and many of his family have party posts.

Yet, our correspondent adds, this man, who entered politics in the 1940s and spent seven years in prison for advocating democracy, commands widespread respect as the grand old man of Nepalese politics.

King Gyanendra shut down Parliament in 2002 and seized absolute power in February 2005, accusing the government of failing to quell the Maoist insurgency.

A coalition of seven parties, in alliance with the rebels, rallied hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets for nearly three weeks this month, forcing the king to back down.

Scenes from the first session of the reconvened parliament

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