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Saturday, August 05, 2006

Nepal to seize royal lands, king to be 'normal citizen'

KATHMANDU (AFP) - Nepal plans to seize lands owned by King Gyanendra and other royal family members and distribute them to the poor while the monarch will be treated like a "normal citizen," a minister said.

The law that will limit the amount of land the king can hold will be drafted once an inventory of royal land holdings are completed, the minister said.

"The king and the royal family members will be treated just like normal citizens," Prabhu Narayan Chaudhary, minister for land reforms and management, told AFP on Saturday.

"The seized royal property will be nationalized and handed over to poor farmers and landless people," Chaudhary said.

The minister gave no timeframe for enaction of the law.

Under the law, Nepalese people are allowed to possess 7.45 hectares (18.4 acres) of land, the minister said.

But according to a preliminary report by the land reforms ministry, the king and royal family members own 1,729 hectares (4,274 acres) of land throughout the country, including palaces and forests, the minister said.

"In addition to this, we believe the king and his family members possess other land in the country. The government has directed all land revenue offices to furnish the details within next eight days," Chaudhary said.

The minister said the government was having difficulty in assessing the royal holdings as there was no existing inventory.

The announcement is the latest blow for the king who has already been stripped of his control over the army.

Gyanendra was forced by massive street protests last April to give up absolute rule.

The monarch, traditionally revered as the incarnation of the Hindu god of protection, Lord Vishnu, sacked the government and seized power in February 2005, saying the move was necessary to crush a deadly decade-old Maoist revolt.

But afterwards the sidelined political parties and Maoists formed an alliance to end his rule.

The Maoists are now set to enter mainstream politics after the new government agreed to a key rebel demand for elections to a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution that will, among other things, decide the future of the monarchy.
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