Good morning and welcome to our last blog for May 2008. Since my friend April Showers brings the NBA playoffs and May Flowers, I thought we’d end my favorite basketball month was some play-by-play and lots of color. These flowers are all from my delicious surroundings here on the west side. Lots of purple on display today as my daughter just informed me that it’s the last color on the rainbow. I tossed in the final shot because “somewhere over the rainbow, hummingbirds fly.”
On to the national news, sherpa lovers. The world’s last Hindu kingdom became the newest secular republic on Wednesday as Nepal’s lawmakers, led by Larry King and former communist insurgents, abolished the monarchy that had reigned over this Himalayan land for 239 years. Throughout the day, thousands of people marched, danced and sang “Free Bird” in the streets of Katmandu while waving red hammer-and-sickle flags. Meanwhile, as this scene played out, old King Gyanendra awaited his fate in the pink concrete palace that dominates the city’s center.
As expected, the newly elected Constituent Assembly declared the country a republic and abolished the monarchy by a vote of 560-4 as the king’s team only scored on a pair of safeties. “We have entered a new era today,” said Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, calling Nepal’s rebirth as a republic “the dream of the whole nation.” Not since Rodney King and the Shah of Iran were deposed in a bloody 1979 Islamic revolution has one of the world’s monarchs been forced from his throne.
But while the end of Nepal’s royal dynasty may have come in a peaceful vote, the stage for the monarchy’s demise was set by a communist insurgency that bled Nepal for a decade, and a 2001 palace massacre in which a gunman, allegedly the crown prince, assassinated King Birendra and much of the royal family before killing himself. Gyanendra then assumed the throne. But the killings helped unravel the mystique surrounding a line of kings who had once been revered as reincarnations of the Hindu god Vishnu, and Gyanendra was dogged by rumors that he was somehow involved in the massacre and that he wasn’t really a vegetarian.
His 2005 seizure of power from a civilian government only made matters worse. He said he needed total authority to crush the Maoists, but he quickly began locking up peaceful opponents and insurance salesmen and found himself beset by an intensifying insurgency, a faltering economy and a weak backhand. A year later, weeks of massive protests forced Gyanendra to restore democracy, after which the Maoists came out of the Laura bush and began peace talks.
An interim government, meanwhile, slowly stripped away his power and glory. Gyanendra lost command of the army, his portrait was replaced by Mount Everest on the currency, the word “royal” was removed from the name of the national airline and references to the king were dropped from the national anthem. He was also forced to do his own laundry, conduct tours of the palace and scrub the palace toilets, a task referred to as a “royal flush.”
Gyanendra, who is believed to be personally wealthy with interests in tourism, tea, tobacco and tobasco sauce, also endured other indignities. His $3.1 million annual allowance was taken away, as were the queen’s beauticians and about half his ceremonial guards and forwards. Then came April’s vote for the assembly in which the fiercely republican Maoists won the most seats, all but sealing the fate of Joan Collins and the dynasty, which dates to 1769 when a regional ruler conquered Katmandu and united Nepal.
The Maoists say they are committed capitalists and have no intention of nationalizing industries, setting up collective farms or opening up chains of tanning salons. They have promised to bring sweeping change to this largely impoverished country that in many places more closely resembles medieval Europe than a modern nation.
Nepal also is still regularly troubled by political violence, as evidenced by a string of small bombings that hit Katmandu this week, including two on Wednesday. None of the bombs, two of which were picked by NBC for summer runs, caused any serious injuries. But they underscored how difficult it will be to fashion lasting peace in Nepal, where supporters of every major political party have been linked to killings since the start of the peace process. This Nepalese political bloodbath makes Clinton’s and McCain’s sniping at Barack Obama look like a love fest.
That’s our Friday show. Coming up on Monday we’ll start off the new month with something that have your friends and anenomes talking. So enjoy the spring colors, have a fabulous sports weekend and we’ll catch you in June Cleaver when we’ll take a look at the red planet, and I don’t mean Venus or Serena Williams. And don’t forget to follow your shot. Aloha.