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Protesters unmoved by king's words

Concession comes after demonstrations, intense world pressure

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KATHMANDU, Nepal (CNN) -- Members of the seven political parties that launched massive protests against the absolute rule of Nepal's King Gyanendra were meeting Saturday to begin the process of forming a new government, one day after the king vowed to return political power to the people.

Gyanendra called upon the seven-party alliance to come up with the name of a consensus prime minister candidate, and said the present Cabinet will continue to function until the prime minister's appointment.

The demonstrations, now in their third week, have steadily escalated in recent days, with street violence and stiff curfews. At least 14 people have died.

The government ordered the curfew in Kathmandu, which ended at midnight, to resume Saturday at noon (2:15 a.m. ET) and remain in force until 8 p.m. (10:15 a.m. ET).

Small protests continued early Saturday on the eastern outskirts of the capital, but numbers were expected to swell during the day.

Protesters were unmoved by the king's apparent concession Friday in the face of massive protests that have paralyzed the tiny Himalayan kingdom.

"The royal proclamation is a sham," thousands shouted on the streets of the capital, Reuters news agency reported.

Up to 200,000 protesters ringed Kathmandu Friday, burning posters of the king, setting tires and buildings ablaze. There was looting Friday night.

Protesters are banned from the capital -- they are relegated to a road ringing the city -- and riot police had been ordered to shoot anyone who ignores the restriction. It was unclear if the same policy was in effect Saturday.

In his speech Friday, the king declared the intention of holding elections, and said he would retain the status had before he seized power 14 months ago. A government official, Information Minister Shirish Rana, told CNN that those roles would be guardian of the constitution and symbol of national unity.

Rana said that under the constitution, the Nepalese army will be controlled by a security council headed by the elected prime minister.

"Executive power of the kingdom of Nepal, which was in our safekeeping, shall from this day be returned to the people," the king said Friday in a nationally televised address recorded in a studio decorated with royal crests.

Hard-line protesters scoffed at the speech but politicians said it had positive aspects. Demonstrators have said they won't stop their protests until Gyanendra actually steps down.

The protests that began April 6 have paralyzed the tiny Himalayan kingdom.

Gyanendra took over the government in February 2005, after accusing the previous leaders of failing to control the Maoist insurgency that has sought to install a communist administration.

The Maoists have sided with the protesters, and it was unclear what role, if any, they would play in a new government. Government officials said Maoist "terrorists" were among the protesters, and they blamed them for helping to incite the discontent.

Worldwide pressure

Worldwide pressure built on the king this week to loosen his grip on power and restore democracy in the country, besieged by the Maoist insurgency that began in 1996 and resulted in the deaths of at least 13,000 people.

There were fears of chaos and regional instability if the besieged king didn't make concessions. The country has a strategic location, nestled between China and India. The West and the democratic world would find the establishment of a communist republic there a major threat.

Diplomats from neighboring India, the world's largest democracy, which has close ties to Nepal, met with the king this week, and U.S. officials have spoken out to encourage Nepal to restore a democracy.

Krishna Prasad Sitaula, a spokesman for the Nepali Congress, a key constituent of the alliance, said the king had not "addressed the road map of the protest movement," Reuters reported.

In a nationally televised address on Friday, the king said he would return political power to the people.

But hard-line protesters scoffed at the speech, declaring it wasn't conciliatory enough. Posters of the king were burned Friday, along with tires.

In his address, Gyanendra said, "Executive power of the kingdom of Nepal, which was in our safekeeping, shall from this day, be returned to the people." (Watch the king discuss what he's doing "in the interest of the people" -- 2:05)

He called upon the striking seven-party alliance to come up with the name of a prime minister candidate, saying that elections should be held as soon as possible. The present Cabinet would function until the prime minister's appointment, he said. (Watch as the king's announcement is met with skepticism -- 2:13)

Political leaders cited positive aspects in the king's remarks, such as the intention to hand over political power and somewhat of an admission that the effort to rule absolutely failed.

Shawn McCormack, U.S. State Department spokesman, lurged all sides to "refrain from violence" as the political process proceeds, saying "the Nepalese deserve a democratic government that can return stability and peace to their country."

He added, "We are pleased that King Gyanendra's message today made clear that sovereignty resides with the people. We expect the king to live up to his words, and allow the parties to form a government. We urge the parties to respond quickly by choosing a prime minister and a Cabinet."

Ian Martin with the Kathmandu office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees called it the worst government crackdown since Gyanendra seized absolute power last year. Martin complained that the restrictions on movement were making it difficult for the U.N. organization, other civil rights groups and journalists to monitor the protests.

Gyanendra came to the throne in 2001, following a royal massacre that killed his older brother King Birendra and other members of the family. Birendra's son Dipendra, who carried out the killings, died three days after the massacre, leaving Gyanendra to assume the throne.

CNN Senior International Correspondent Satinder Bindra and CNN's Sumnina Udas contributed to this report.

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