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The bodies of late King Birendra and other
slain members of the royal family being carried 
during a funeral procession for cremation in 
Katmandu yesterday. AFP

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Nepal's Royals massacred and cremated

Katmandu, Saturday, (AFP) - Nepal's crown prince shot dead his parents the king and queen and several other relatives during a family dinner at the royal palace here before turning the gun on himself, officials said.

The shocking massacre was swathed in confusion as differing official versions only added to speculation and wild rumour over the circumstances of the killings, the precise number of dead, the condition of the crown prince and the future succession.

An official statement on state-run radio simply said King Birendra, Queen Aishwarya, their children Prince Nirajan, 22, and Princess Shruti, 24, and one of the king's cousins, Princess Jayanti Shah, had "passed away."

The statement, which gave no indication of the crown prince's role, said he had been appointed king, but added that due to his "serious condition" in intensive care, Prince Gyanendra, middle brother of the late King Birendra, had been named regent in his place.

Home Minister Ram Chandra Paudel, however, said a further six people had been shot dead including the king's two sisters and one of their husbands when Crown Prince Dipendra, 29, opened fire with two semi-automatic weapons during the family's regular Friday dinner at the Narayan Hity Palace."

It was the crown prince," said Paudel. "This is the most unfortunate and shocking event in the history of the Nepalese royal family."

Some officials said the crown prince was in a deep coma and had been declared "clinically dead."

Prince Gyanendra, 54, was staying at the winter palace in Pokhra at the time of the massacre and was flown to Kathmandu in an army helicopter on Saturday.

Sources close to the royal palace said the massacre was triggered by a bitter family row over the woman the crown prince wanted to marry.

The crown prince reportedly wanted to wed 22-year-old Devyani Rana, daughter of former foreign and finance minister Pashupati Shumshere Rana, but his choice was strongly opposed by Queen Aishwarya, who had another candidate in mind.

Dipendra had refused to be swayed, revealing that he had secretly already married Devyani in a temple according to Hindu rites.

According to sources, 55-year-old Harvard-educated King Birendra had warned the heir to the throne that unless he bowed to the queen's wishes he would be passed over in the succession, in favour of his younger brother Prince Nirajan.

As the argument at the dinner table peaked, the crown prince apparently stormed from the room.

He went to his private quarters in the palace, armed himself with two semi-automatic weapons, walked back to the dining room and opened fire, before shooting himself.

Hundreds of thousands of stunned and weeping mourners lined the streets of the Nepalese capital in the afternoon to watch the state funeral cortege of the king and queen, and the three other royals state radio had identified as among the dead."

I got the news by phone this morning, but my first reaction was that it was a hoax call," said social worker Shanti Mishra."

At a time when the country most needs a good leader, the king is dead."

The king's body, held aloft by bare-chested brahmin priests, was covered to the neck with a saffron cloth his face obscured by garlands of flowers and another piece of cloth wrapped around his forehead.

The cortege passed by the main gate of the royal palace as it wound its way to the Golden Temple on the banks of the holy River Bagmati, where the bodies were to be cremated later in the evening.

The Home Ministry ordered three days of national mourning and requested all male government officials to shave their heads as a mark of respect.

King Birendra had ruled predominantly-Hindu Nepal as an absolute monarch from 1972 until 1990, when his role became purely constitutional in the wake of a pro-democracy movement.

The crisis triggered by the killings comes at an especially difficult time for Nepal, which has been struggling to contain an increasingly violent Maoist rebellion.

The landlocked country, sandwiched between India and China, is one of poorest in the world and relies heavily on foreign aid, with most of its foreign exchange earned from the tourist industry.

Amid the mass grieving in Kathmandu, there were some scattered protests.

An angry crowd threw stones at Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala's car at one point during the funeral procession and called on him to resign.

Koirala, who was close to the late king, is also minister of palace affairs.


Textile men bow to quota scam

By Feizal Samath
Sri Lanka's state-run Textile Quota Board (TQB), facing a barrage of allegations over irregular distribution of garment quotas, went one step further last week formalising, what industry experts called, a potentially illegal list of quotas given to a select few companies.

Adding insult to injury, the private sector who earlier screamed foul over the whole selection process, sat and endorsed the list with government officials without a murmur of protest at a hastily-called TQB meeting last Monday.

Roy Jayasinghe, additional secretary to the Ministry of Industrial Development and chairman of the TQB, told the meeting that he had been directed by Industrial Development Minister G. L. Peiris to issue quotas to ten companies on the list and asked members to ratify it.

Government officials and red-faced private sector representatives from the top apparel associations, chambers of commerce and free trade zone associations nodded their heads in approval, meekly ending a drama that erupted two weeks back after angry garment industrialists accused the board of distributing quotas to ministry favourites and catchers.

"It is sad that private sector representatives had to behave this way and not protest at the board over irregularities that were clearly evident. They had a mandate to represent the entire garments industry not their own interests," said an industry source.

"Where is this much-touted corporate governance? Aren't they accountable as much as the government being held responsible?" the source asked.

The ten companies which were awarded quotas on a directive of the minister are Hemas Garments 20,000 dozens, Emerald Garments 16,000 dozens, Montipino Garments 15,000 dozens, Camcol 15,000 dozens, Candy 12,500 dozens, Grand Apparel 7,500 dozens, Tristar 30,000 dozens, Deenam 20,000 dozens, Oxit 10,000 dozens and Plan Lanka 10,000 dozens.

TQB chairman Jayasinghe could not be reached for a response to the allegations, being unavailable after several calls to his residence by the Sunday Times.

The problem surfaced two weeks ago when industrialists said there were a lot of allegations and alarmingly quite a lot of evidence too in the manner in which quotas are being disbursed by the TQB.

Mr. Jayasinghe told board members that the quota list had been issued in April but he did not table any letter from the minister giving directions for the board to issue quotas to any particular individual or group of persons. He is also reported to have promised that this situation would not happen again. It was unclear what he meant by this statement - whether he was referring to an irregular process or what.

Industry sources said the Act governing the functions of the TQB clearly sets out a scheme of distributing quotas which is based on past performance of the 400-odd garment factories, size of the unit and capacity - that was not followed in this case.

The regulations permit the minister to give a direction in writing to the board to allocate quotas to named individuals or groups but in this case there was no letter that was produced at the board meeting which, according to the sources, could amount to the distribution process in April violating laid-out procedures.

Sources said as usual the government would attempt to sweep this issue under the carpet, like the endorsement of the list at the board meeting and a subsequent denial of irregularities at a high-level meeting in parliament, unless an aggrieved exporter or association challenges the decision in court. There are good legal grounds for court action based on the absence of a letter from the minister, the source noted.

TQB board members and other connected government officials were summoned to a parliamentary meeting on Thursday and asked to explain whether or not there were alleged irregularities in the quota distribution. 

Officials including Mr. Jayasinghe were at pains to reject the allegations, first reported in The Sunday Times, while once again private sector representatives said little.

But after intensive questioning, officials and businessmen agreed that the distribution process was questionable.

Industrialists allege that quotas were given under-the-table for a fee of between US $ 5 to US $ 10 per dozen to favoured companies, some of whom then resold the quotas to others. They allege that some of these companies were not even functioning any more.

This is not the first time that TQB, which plays a major role in distributing export quotas to the garments trade, the biggest export sector in the country, has come under scrutiny. In the past too there were similar accusations of farming out quotas to favourites until the system was streamlined and more transparency provided when the late C.V. Goonaratne was Industrial Development Minister. (See Editorial)


Colombo meeting put off

Not only the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal but also South Asia was plunged into disbelief yesterday in the aftermath of the Shakespearean tragedy where the royal family was massacred allegedly by the heir to the throne.

In Colombo government leaders expressed shock and horror while a long-awaited Colombo meeting intended to revive the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation was put off indefinitely.

An official said the Foreign Ministry was notifying SAARC countries of the postponement of the foreign secretaries meeting scheduled for June 7 and 8. This meeting was regarded as a crucial step in the effort to revive SAARC and hold the much-postponed summit in the Nepalese capital.

The Foreign Ministry official said he hoped the postponement would be brief and that the meeting could be held by the end of this month.

Joining the world in shock and grief, President Chandrika Kumaratunga yesterday sent a message to Nepal hailing the slain King Birendra as a man who had made an invaluale contribution to SAARC as one of its founding fathers.

She also described him a true friend of Sri Lanka and a leader who had worked hard to promote friendship and cooperation between the two countries.

"The warm reception and hospitality extended to me by their Majesties and other members of the Royal family during my State visit to Nepal in 1999 still remain vivid in my memory," she said.

Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe currently touring India also expressed his profound sadness .

The Sri Lanka Nepal Friendship Society in a condolence message said the tragedy was a death blow to democracy in the Himalayan kingdom.

The society's president Captain D.A. Wickramasinghe said they hoped that the people of Nepal would be calm and patient in this hour of crisis.


Shock options in power crisis

By Shelani de Silva
Neck deep in losses and sinking further, the Ceylon Electricity Board is asking for a massive Treasury bail-out package of upto Rs. 5 billion or the greenlight to increase charges by as much as 35 percent over the next six months.

Officials said the CEB in a whirlpool of corruption and other malpractices was now facing a loss of Rs. 11 billion and was surviving on overdrafts from two state commercial banks at an interest of 22.5 percent.

A senior manager of the CEB said that if the government did not favourably consider the two options, the alternative was privatization.

The CEB has also proposed that the so-called automatic adjustment system in electricity be introduced, whereby tariffs would be adjusted according to the fluctuating world oil prices. 


CEB official brought to light

A top official of the Ceylon Electricity Board is in trouble after he allegedly tried to cover up matters when he was questioned by a parliamentary select committee regarding the offering of a contract to a company owned by his son-in-law.

The Sunday Times learns that the committee had questioned the official on a contract involving the supply of insulators which had been found to be of low quality. 

The official had first denied any knowledge or links with the owner of the company, but later when pressed admitted it was his son in law.


CID releases controversial top cop

By Chris Kamalendran and Ruwan Weerakoon
Controversial former Reserve Police Sergeant Beddagane Sanjeewa who closely associated with the Presidential Security Division was at the centre of another probe this week. 

This time the man, accused of involvement in thuggery and rackets, is reportedly involved in a vehicle import racket and a hijack threat.

Sanjeewa was interviewed by detectives after he reported to the CID on Friday. He was released later yesterday. 

The latest saga involving Sanjeewa began after police started unearthing evidence of a massive vehicle import racket where luxury vehicles are imported on false documents and sold with bogus number plates.

Sergeant Sanjeewa, known to be closely associated with a cabinet minister, was alleged to be linked to a series of incidents including the 1999 attack on photojournalists covering a UNP demonstration.

The surrender came after police detected a vehicle imported on false documents by a group allegedly connected with Beddegane Sanjeewa.

Before Sanjeewa's arrest two cabinet ministers are alleged to have urged the police to release the vehicle a Rs. six million worth Prado. But the vehicle, which had been detected in Panadura was handed over to the Customs Preventive Office under police escort after alleged threats to hijack it as the drama and the political involvement deepened.

Traffic Police said they had brought the vehicle from Panadura to the Fort Police station and were planning to take it to the Department of the Registrar of Motor Vehicles, when they received information that a gang was waiting to hijack the vehicle midway.

They said Police Traffic Headquarters had sought an escort from the Fort police station and the Police Emergency Division to take the vehicle to Narahenpita, but both had claimed they did not have sufficient personnel for this purpose.

Traffic Police said they then decided to hand it over to the Customs Preventive branch and took it there with their limited security resources despite the threat of a hijack.

Later the CID took over the case and recorded statement from various parties. 

A senior police officer told The Sunday Times that vehicles imported illegally were often given false number plates and sold at a huge profit or used for robberies and other crimes.

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