Hundreds demonstrate in Nepalese capital

Hundreds of people demonstrated in the center of the Nepalese capital on Tuesday protesting the delay in a parliament vote on a proclamation that would curtail the king's powers. Protesters torched at least four government vehicles, blocked traffic, and burned tires on the streets. "Beware, don't betray the people," they chanted as they moved toward the city center. Police kept watch over the crowd but did not intervene even when street signs were vandalized and government cars were torched.

A government minister said demonstrators failed to understand why the proclamation was postponed and said it would be voted on later this week. "The seven parties in the government decided that it was best to be tabled," Home Minister Krishna Sitaula said. "The government wants to assure everyone that we will present the declaration on Thursday for voting."

It was the first violent protest since weeks of demonstrations last month forced King Gyanendra to give up power, restore parliament and install a new government. The proclamation was scheduled to be presented in parliament on Monday. However, differences within the Himalayan country's ruling seven-party alliance had delayed the process.

The declaration would remove King Gyanendra's constitutional control over the 90,000-strong Royal Nepalese army and his right to make the final decision on major issues, and hand those powers to Parliament. It also would make Gyanendra pay taxes, remove his immunity from prosecution and let Parliament set the royal family's income from the government.

Parliament's speaker, Subash Nemwang, said Monday that the proclamation was likely to be adopted since it was prepared by the alliance, to which a majority of lawmakers belong. The alliance's majority would allow it to override powers set for the king in the constitution. Gyanendra, who gave up power last month after weeks of popular protests, was not expected to resist. Legislators would not say what the differences were. Dilendra Badhu of the Nepali Congress party, among the drafters of the proclamation, said all the parties agreed that a full Cabinet should present the proclamation in Parliament for a vote.

Thursday's vote most likely would take place after an expansion of the Cabinet, which currently has only seven members. The three main partners in the alliance Nepali Congress, Nepali Congress Democratic and Communist Party of Nepal were all locked in internal meetings Tuesday to decide who they would nominate as ministers. The Cabinet is expected to add 14 new members.

A draft of the proclamation seen by The Associated Press also proposes scrapping the Raj Parishad, the king's advisory council, which contains more than 100 of his supporters and was blamed for advising Gyanendra to seize absolute power last year. Gyanendra fired the prime minister in February 2005, citing a need to clamp down on corruption and stamp out a communist insurgency that has killed 13,000 people in the past decade.

Weeks of often violent street protests last month forced Gyanendra to give up direct control of the government, reinstate Parliament and return political authority to elected officials. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court was to hear a petition Tuesday by two former ministers under detention who have challenged their arrest. Sirish Sumshere Rana and Ramesh Nath Pandey, who served under King Gyanendra's government, filed the petition after their arrest last week, reports the AP.