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Nepal massacre: Prince named king

Royal family
Nepalese King Birendra, left, Queen Aiswarya and Crown Prince Dipendra, right, during a ceremony in December 2000  

KATMANDU, Nepal -- In a surprise twist the government of Nepal has named Crown Prince Dipendra as King after he shot most of his family to death and then turned the gun on himself.

Dipendra, who was earlier thought to have died of his wounds, is now reported to be in a coma and on life support at an army hospital after the palace massacre.

The announcement of Dipendra's accession to throne following the death of his father, King Birendra, came in a brief statement from the Nepalese privy council carried on state radio.

It said that given the new king's condition the late king's brother, Prince Gyanendra, was being appointed as regent, or acting king.

State radio also confirmed that the Dipendra's mother, Queen Aiswarya, was killed in the shooting.

No further details of the killings were given although it is thought that as many as 10 members of the family were killed as Dipendra unleashed a hail of automatic gunfire at the palace late Friday.

Three others are reported to have been seriously wounded.

The bodies of the dead King and Queen are expected to be cremated along with the other dead royals at a riverside temple later Saturday.

'National tragedy'

Nepalese Deputy Prime Minister Ram Chandra Paudel has called the massacre "a national tragedy" and confirmed that Dipendra's finger was on the trigger.

CNN's Kasra Naji reports

The shootings are reported to have been the result of a dispute between the Eton-educated crown prince and his mother over an arranged marriage.

Queen Aiswarya is believed to have disapproved of Dipendra's choice of bride and had called a meeting of family members on Friday evening to discuss the issue.

Sources told CNN that the crown prince, clad in military fatigues, entered a sitting room of the royal palace at about 2240 local time and opened fire with an automatic rifle.

Unconfirmed reports said the crown prince wished to marry the daughter of a former government minister.

Shortly after the shooting authorities dispatched a helicopter from Kathmandu to bring King Birendra's brother, Prince Gyanendra, back to the capital.

He arrived in the capital by car Saturday afternoon after traveling from the jungle area of Chitwan.

It now appears he will become regent and assume the King's responsibilities for as long as Dipendra remains in a coma.

According to the Nepalese constitution the brother of the King can only accede to the throne after his sons have died.

CNN's Kasra Naji who is in the Nepalese capital says the situation there is calm but tense with troops brought out onto the streets to help maintain security.

Nation shocked

Earlier Kathmandu, a city of some 1.5 million residents, awoke Saturday buzzing with rumors but no officials confirmation of the bloody events that had taken place at the palace hours earlier.

Eager for news thousands of people began gathering near the palace grounds in the center of the city but were held some distance back by security forces in riot gear.

"This is unbelievable . . . one day you hear that the crown prince is getting married soon and the next day he goes on to a shooting rampage and kills everyone in the family," said Shreeram Shrestha, who had rushed to the palace after hearing the news.

"Shocking is an understatement, we have been orphaned by this loss," said another city resident.

God king

Birendra, 55, was widely revered in Nepali society with many believing that the occupant of the throne is the reincarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu.

He became Nepal's head of state in 1972 reigning for almost two decades as an absolute monarch.

In 1990, he turned over government to a multi-party democracy that has since struggled with a fractured parliament, a frail economy and a long-running Maoist insurgency.

The shootings come at a time of major political instability.

Opposition parties have been demanding Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala's resignation for the government's alleged role in a bribery scandal and for not tackling the insurgency.

The country was shut down for three days last week by opposition parties pressing for his resignation.

Parliament was stalled for the entire winter session earlier this year and street protests have been held regularly.

In New York late Friday, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan's office issued a statement saying Annan was "profoundly shocked" by news of the killings.

Annan "is deeply saddened by this tragedy and extends his heartfelt condolences to the people of Nepal and calls for calm and stability in this difficult period," the statement said.

• Nepal
• King Birendra
• United Nations Development Programme in Nepal

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