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Prince named king as Nepal royal funerals begin

KATMANDU, Nepal (CNN) -- Funerals began here Saturday for the slain members of Nepal's royal family killed in a hail of bullets Friday night inside the royal palace.

Crown Prince Dipendra Bir Bikram, 29, whom sources within the royal court said was responsible for the shootings, was named king of Nepal Saturday by the Nepal State Council, which oversees royal affairs.

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.

The late king's brother, Prince Gyanendra, who was not in the royal palace at the time of the shooting, was named regent, or acting king, given the new king's condition. Gyanendra was in the south of the country when the shootings took place.

Hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets here Saturday as the funeral procession for the King and Queen began.

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The bodies were on the way to a crematorium to be burned on wooden funeral pyres in accordance with Hindu tradition. Riot police and military troops surrounded the royal palace and were on the streets in an effort to maintain control.

Sources in the royal palace said Crown Prince Dipendra, clad in military fatigues, entered a sitting room of the royal palace at about 10:40 p.m. and opened fire with an automatic rifle.

Those killed include King Birenda, Queen Aishwarya, Princess Sruti, Prince Nirajan, Princess Sharada, Princess Shanti and Kumar Khadga, the king's brother-in-law.

The king's younger brother was wounded and is in the hospital.

Sources said Dipendra turned the gun on himself after the shootings and was taken to a military hospital where he was in a coma and on life support Saturday morning.

Speculation about the motive for the shooting centered around a long-running dispute between the crown prince, educated at Eton in the United Kingdom, 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. Unconfirmed reports said the crown prince wished to marry the daughter of a former government minister.

Kathmandu, a city of 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.

Birendra, 55, was widely revered in Nepalese 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, U.N. 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.

CNN Correspondent Kasra Naji contributed to this report.







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