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Nepalese King Appoints More Loyalists to Expanded Cabinet

Nepal's King Gyanendra has strengthened his royalist administration by appointing more new ministers to his cabinet. The move is seen as yet another setback for Nepal's return to democracy more than five months after the king assumed absolute power.

A palace announcement in Kathmandu says King Gyanendra has appointed 12 new ministers - expanding his cabinet to 24. All of them are considered to be staunch loyalists.

This is the king's third revamp of his cabinet since February when he dismissed the government for corruption and failing to stem a bloody Maoist rebellion. The king assumed absolute power in the constitutional monarchy - vowing it would last only 100 days.

This latest move with the cabinet has again angered mainstream political parties, which say the king has reneged on a promised return to democracy.

The head of Kathmandu's Center for Contemporary Studies, Lok Raj Baral, agrees King Gyanendra is only consolidating his power. "He has not shown any kind of gesture, he is very much rigid on his lines…he is not prepared to negotiate with the parties at the moment," he said.

The international community has been urging the king to unite with - instead of ignore - Nepal's political parties to tackle the Maoist insurgency, which has killed some 10,000 people.

In the political deadlock, the Maoists have begun wooing the parties in a bid to end the monarch's rule. In a recent statement rebel leader Prachanda said the Maoists would be willing to discuss a multi-party election, human rights and a return to the rule of law and peace in Nepal.

Mr. Baral says the Maoists have gotten the parties' attention. "They want to know whether the Maoists are going to lay down their arms, etc. They have very cautiously reacted to the move… but they are positive on Prachanda's offer," he said.

Despite this, political analysts in the region see no early end to the three-way struggle between the king, the political parties and the Maoists in the tiny and impoverished Himalayan country.