Page last updated at 05:49 GMT, Monday, 16 June 2008 06:49 UK

Nepal palace becomes a museum

By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Kathmandu

Nepalese Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala (C) arrives for the inaugural flag-hoisting ceremony at the Narayanhiti Palace, which has now been declared a museum, in Kathmandu, 15 June 2008
The palace contains the former king's crown and sceptre
Four days after the former king of Nepal moved out of his palace forever, the government of Nepal has held its first public function in the building and has declared it a museum.

Senior members of the Maoist former rebel party were present, thereby openly setting foot in the palace building for the first time.

The authorities have wasted no time in moving to transform the huge former royal palace.

They have even placed a board at the building reading "Narayanhiti Palace Museum".

Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala raised the national flag at a function in the palace grounds and said the building, like the flag, belonged to the people.

Officials say it will take several months for the museum to be ready.

They add that one of its main attractions will be a 1939 Mercedes Benz given to former King Gyanendra's grandfather, King Tribhuvan, by Adolf Hitler.

Like other cars at the time, it had to be carried to Kathmandu because rural Nepal had no roads.

It is now rusting and derelict.

Also likely to be on display are the priceless crown and sceptre which Gyanendra handed to the government on Wednesday, and his throne.

Heavy price

Several commentators have praised the ex-king's exit as dignified.

Footage from the ceremony

He is now living in a lodge in a nearby forest, but his ageing stepmother and step-grandmother have stayed on in their bungalows within the palace grounds.

The museum ceremony was a brief respite from a bitter row between the biggest parties over who should hold the new top posts.

Mr Koirala, who is 84, has failed to vacate the prime ministerial post despite having said he would retire from politics after last April's election.

The leader of the Maoists, who came a clear first in the poll, was quoted as saying on Sunday that anyone going against the people's mandate would have to "pay a heavy price".

Meanwhile the smaller parties in the huge new elected assembly, which is supposed to be writing a new constitution, accuse the bigger ones of insulting them and ignoring them.

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