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Page last updated at 08:50 GMT, Wednesday, 16 April 2008 09:50 UK

Nepal king told: 'Go gracefully'

King  Gyanendra
The king's days appear to be numbered

A senior Maoist leader in Nepal has urged the country's beleaguered King Gyanendra to step down "gracefully."

Baburam Bhattarai, second-in-command of the former rebel movement, told the AFP news agency that such a move would pave the way for a democratic republic.

He was speaking as his party was on course to win three times more seats than the next largest party in elections to form an assembly.

The Maoists have won 116 out of the 215 seats declared so far.

That is far more than many analysts had expected and they are now tipped to secure an absolute majority.

Republic

Mr Bhattarai said there would be no going back on plans to get rid of the monarchy and the king had little choice but to go.

Women vote in Nepal

"In the first meeting of the constituent assembly we will declare the country a republic, then we will notify the king to leave the palace," he said.

"As an ordinary citizen, he will have to abide by the law."

Meanwhile the army and business leaders have said they are confident that they will be able to do business with the newly elected government.

The BBC's Charles Haviland in Kathmandu says that the Maoists are continuing to surprise even themselves as their vote tally increases.

They are performing well both in the race for directly elected seats to the new assembly, and in those seats allocated under a proportional system.

Optimism

Our correspondent says that there is a sense of something new developing in Nepal and a mood of optimism that the former rebels - who have moved from the battlefield to forming a likely government in less than two years - can give Nepal the new start that it needs.

Sectors previously wary of the former rebels are now putting out feelers towards them.

A senior army figure, Brigadier General Shiva Ram Pradhan, has expressed the willingness of the military to work with the new government.

The chairman of the country's chamber of commerce has praised Maoist leaders for their promise to listen to the private sector when working out economic policy.

The US - which regards the Maoists as terrorists - has congratulated the Nepalese people for holding elections which it says were mostly peaceful.

It said that it looked forward to an assembly that reflected the people's will.

But in what our correspondent says are clear signs that things are not going to change overnight, there have been reports that Maoist youth league members have attacked members of other parties in outlying districts.

The former rebels on Tuesday said that the abolition of the monarchy was now just a "matter of procedure".




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