Nepal's king vows democracy, but will it end the crisis?

Nepal's king vowed Friday to bring democracy back to this Himalayan nation, 14 months after his seizure of power set off a bloody political crisis that has engulfed the country.

But with well over 100,000 protesters filling the streets and a top envoy warning the government could be nearing collapse, it appeared unlikely that King Gyanendra's promises would mollify the political opposition or a public desperate for change.

The king, though, insisted he was acting on behalf of the nation his family has ruled since the eighteenth century.

His dynasty, he said, had an "unflinching commitment toward constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy," and called on the seven main opposition political parties to quickly name a prime minister.

"Executive power ... shall, from this day, be returned to the people," he said in the announcement broadcast on state television and radio.

Gyanendra, never an electric public speaker, looked particularly uncomfortable during the Friday speech, frozen rigidly in front of a cloth backdrop and staring directly into the camera as he spoke.

His glumness is unsurprising. In a country where kings were revered as godlike just a few years ago, Gyanendra is deeply unpopular, isolated in a collection of palaces and has lost control of much of rural Nepal to a bloody Maoist insurgency.

Political leaders saw little in his speech they believed would improve things.

"This is incomplete," said Minendra Risal of Nepali Congress Democratic party, one of the seven opposition parties that have joined with the Maoists to protest the king's seizure of power in February 2005.

The king, he noted, fell short of a key opposition demand the return of parliament and the creation of a special assembly to write a new constitution. The assembly "is the aspiration of the people," reports AP.

O.Ch.