Nepal's king, queen cremated; acting monarch named

KATMANDU, Nepal, June 2 -- Thousands of shocked and grief-stricken Nepalese bid a tearful farewell Saturday to their assassinated King Birendra and Queen Aishwariya as their bodies were consigned to leaping flames near the famous Pashupatinath temple on the banks of Bagmat river in Katmandu.

Birendra, 55, Aishwariya, 52, and 11 other family members of the Himalayan kingdom's royal family were killed when Crown Prince Dipendra, 30, opened fire after an argument following a family dinner at the royal palace Friday night.


On Saturday, buglers sounded the last post and artillery guns boomed in salute to the royal couple as hundreds of thousands Nepalese people watched the funeral broadcast live by the Nepal Television. Bare-chested Brahmin priests carried Birendra's body, laden with marigold flowers, on a bamboo stretcher. The queen's body was carried in an ornate mounted palanquin. Thousands lined the streets from the military hospital to the site of the cremation.


"We are yet to come with terms on what has happened to our nation," said a grief-stricken resident, Haribol Bhandari said.

The bodies of Prince Nirajan and Princess Shruti, her two children and one of the king's cousins, Princess Jayanti, were also cremated at the same spot one after the other, less than 24 hours after the royal bloodbath blamed on Dipendra.

"We have been orphaned," local resident Bimal Kumar said with a choked voice.

The Star TV news quoted palace sources as saying that the crown prince had an argument with his parents at the dining table around 11 p.m. (1730 GMT) Friday over his plans to get married and was asked to leave since he was in an inebriated state.

He withdrew from the dining hall but returned with an assault rifle and a pistol and opened fire killing 13 members of the royal family and then turned the gun on himself.

The queen is believed to have objected to her son's choice of a bride. Reports said royal astrologers had warned the queen that Birendra would die if their son got married or fathered children before the age of 35. The queen is believed to have objected to his choice of bride -- upon the reported advice of royal astrologers.


Under the constitution, the Privy Council had named Dipendra to be the next king,but he remains gravely ill in the hospital. Birendra's brother -- Prince Gyanedra - has been appointed acting monarch.

The royal carnage has shocked the small Himalayan nation of 24 million. Life in the capital, Katmandu, came to a virtual standstill as Nepalese began to absorb the news that their leader, who many regard as are incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, was gone.

Stores were closed and security was tightened, although police reported no disturbances. Many people were milling around the royal palace.

"They are all dead. The country is in gloom and we are all shocked," a Katmandu resident, M.P. Upadhya, said in a voice strained by emotion.

World leaders expressed their condolences after hearing the news of the tragedy.

"I am deeply saddened and shocked at King Birendra's untimely death," President Bush said in a statement issued by the White House. "I send my condolences to the Nepalese people during this difficult period. Our prayers are with the government and people of Nepal."

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he was "profoundly shocked."

Britain's Prince Charles, an acquaintance of the Nepalese royals, was said to be "shocked and saddened," Buckingham Palace reported.


Pakistan's leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, sent a message of condolence, saying, "The people of Pakistan join me in extending our heartfelt condolences at this terrible loss for the people of Nepal."

The Indian government has announced a three-day mourning period.

Due to the tragedy a high-level meeting of the seven countries of South Asia, including India and Pakistan, was postponed. The meeting had been scheduled for June 8.

Neither foreign leaders nor ambassadors stationed in Katmandu had been invited to the services for the slain royals. A five-day mourning period was declared.

The Press Trust of India reported violence from commercial towns Birganj, Biratnagar and Bhairva in the valley where anguished and agitated people blocked traffic. Police charged some protesters in Katmandu who had demanded that the "culprits" be hanged, claiming there was a conspiracy behind the killings.

Birendra had ruled Nepal since 1972 as an absolute monarch but converted the nation into a constitutional monarchy following a popular uprising. He lifted a ban on political parties, and an interim government was appointed in April 1990.

The king was well-respected, but the current government has been challenged by people calling for the prime minister, Girija Prasad Koirala, to resign. Protesters organized a massive strike that temporarily shut down the country earlier in the week.


Born Dec. 6, 1945, Birendra was the first Nepalese king to be educated in the West. His son Dipendra was born June 27, 1971, and attended schools in Katmandu as well as England's prestigious Eton College, which also was the king's alma mater. He later earned a master's degree in geography.


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