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Page last updated at 21:25 GMT, Wednesday, 11 June 2008 22:25 UK

Symbolic moment in Gyanendra's fall

By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Kathmandu

Nepal's former King Gyanendra greets people after addressing a press conference at the Narayanhiti palace in Kathmandu
Gyanendra and his wife are moving to a temporary residence outside the city
I seriously thought my rib-cage was about to be crushed as I waited outside the palace gates to get into the former king's news conference.

After two years of living under virtual gagging orders, it was not surprising that Gyanendra Shah would attract considerable interest with his unprecedented statement to journalists.

But the sheer level of curiosity, the pushing and shoving from the hundreds of reporters and others behind them trying to force their way in, was extraordinary.

In the end I was catapulted in by the crowd behind me, leaving me in a no-man's-land between two gates, facing the brief wrath of police and palace staff demanding to know why I had forced my way in.

Childish glee

Dealing with crowds of journalists is not, of course, something those staff are used to. These men, in Nepali national dress, looked bemused as the minutes ticked by towards their farewell to the palace and their new careers as civil servants.

At 1700, perhaps for the last time, there was a change of the palace guard bearing their red and white flags as the early-evening sun crept over the gardens, banishing the clouds.

Nepal's deposed King Gyanendra, left, and Queen Komal, leave the Narayanhiti palace in Kathmandu
Gyanendra inherited a country wracked by a violent Maoist insurgency

Once the press corps were let in en masse, the mood was one of childish glee as journalists raced across the spacious lawns in this hitherto off-limits territory, past the ceremonial cannons and up the grand staircase into the front lobby.

Inside there was mayhem as people fought for the slightest glimpse of the small table at which Gyanendra would be speaking.

Most were left with no view at all or clambered over the sofas and seats decking the lobby.

The room itself boasted two huge stuffed tigers in a pouncing pose, big paintings of Gyanendra and his ancestors wearing royal regalia - something never to be seen again - and a window behind the grand staircase depicting a peacock, a bird closely associated with Nepal's royalty.

Accusations rebuffed

The ex-king finally came in by a small side door close to the main entrance. That meant he had to push past dozens of those assembled, only increasing their sense of feverish expectation.

He did not look like someone battered and bruised or a man many say was single-handedly responsible for the end of a centuries-old monarchy.

I couldn't help wondering if some of the colour and pageantry of the royals will be missed in the years to come, now they are being consigned to a museum

A calm smile on his face, he gave the palms-together "namaste" greeting he has always given as he fought his way to the front - bearing out the remarks of those who know him well, that he has not shown any worry in response to the political convulsions that have ousted the Crown.

Once he started speaking, the sound system failed - a comical reminder of Maoist leader Prachanda's first press conference two years ago, when the lights went out.

Gyanendra's words were barely audible to most, then there were violent sounds of electronic feedback before his voice momentarily boomed louder, then went back to being soft again.

That problem, and the lack of reverence which the monarchy - or ex-monarchy - now commands, meant that there was anything but a hushed silence. Instead a constant murmur of conversation overlaid this final statement from the palace.

Hindu activists supporting the deposed king protest against the abolition of monarchy in Katmandu
A few loyalist onlookers called for the king to stay on

He had his say. He felt able for the first time to confront the belief prevalent among Nepalis that he and his son plotted the palace killings of 2001 which saw 10 of the royals, including his brother King Birendra, killed in a shooting.

It was not him, he asserted, saying he had never had the chance to let his tears flow for his relatives.

He said he would not go abroad and had not wasted Nepal's resources. He even said he accepted the advent of a republic - a process which was rushed through in a cursory fashion two weeks ago.

But, as before, he insisted that his unpopular pursuit of absolute power, backed by the military, had not trampled on the people's rights - a notion most Nepalis would dismiss.

The former monarch spoke for 20 minutes. He headed for the same door through which he had entered, palms pressed together again, and seemed to pause briefly by it, under a portrait of one of the 19th-Century kings. Then he was gone - leaving the reporters free to pose for photos sitting in his chair.

Less than three hours later he and former queen Komal were clearly seen leaving in a limousine, smiling, this time, broadly, heading for their more modest home in the forest nearby.

In a remarkably short space of time, because of an unpopular king, Nepal has dismissed its monarchy, an institution which only eight years ago was still revered.

No-one feels able to say it right now, but I could not help wondering if some of the colour and pageantry of the royals will be missed in the years to come, now they are being consigned to a museum.

After all, the Maoists now in the ascendancy like to dress in grey.

People may also miss the gossipy newspaper stories of palace intrigue which continued to leak out until the very last.

I was also left wondering whether if Gyanendra entered politics as a commoner he might be a charismatic crowd-puller able to match the Maoists' magnetic leader Prachanda, in a country short of colourful politicians. Will he do so? As his friends say, he is keeping his cards close to his chest.



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