KATMANDU – Nepal stood on the brink of becoming the world's newest republic Wednesday as an assembly charged with ending 239 years of royal rule prepared to meet amid tight security.
But with the world's last Hindu king still in the pink-hued, 1970s-era concrete palace that dominates central Katmandu, political leaders said he would be given 15 days to leave, stepping back from earlier threats to remove him by force, if necessary.
Getting rid of the king, however, is in many ways the least of the new government's problems, as evidenced by a string of bombings that hit Katmandu this week — all apparently aimed at pro-republic politicians and activists.
While the four bombings only wounded two people, they underscored how difficult it will be to fashion lasting peace and bring widespread prosperity to this Himalayan land that was bled for a decade by the Maoist insurgency and is still regularly bloodied by political violence.
Tuesday's swearing in of 575 lawmakers — another 26 are to be appointed later — marked a major step in the peace process that ended the insurgency and the culmination of the Maoists' transformation from a rebel army into a political force.
The Maoists won the most seats in April's election for the assembly and have promised to bring sweeping change to Nepal, a largely impoverished country that in many places more closely resembles medieval Europe than a modern nation.
First up when the assembly gets to work Wednesday is doing away with the Shah dynasty, which dates to 1769 when a regional ruler conquered Katmandu and united Nepal.
A "republic will be declared tomorrow," said Baburam Bhattarai, the deputy leader of the Maoists, Nepal's former rebels, told The Associated Press after Tuesday's swearing in ceremony. "Once republic is declared, the king will automatically lose his position and place in the palace."
After that, they've declared a three-day holiday. But once the celebrations end, no one is certain what will happen with the Maoists still struggling to form a government, and political violence still persistent.
The chief of the U.N. mission in Nepal, Ian Martin, warned Tuesday that the violence threatens the peace process and criticized Nepal's politicians for doing little to stop it.
Politically motivated killings have been committed by virtually every major political group since the Maoists gave up their fight two years ago, and Martin said he hopes "there can be a new commitment to justice and law and order from all political parties."
"But it's a little hard for me to expect that," he continued, because in the three years since he arrived in Nepal "there has not been a single case where the perpetrators of a killing in any of these categories has been brought to justice."
Even in victory, the Maoists worry many in Nepal. They still have 20,000 fighters in U.N.-monitored camps spread across the country and their former fighters were recently implicated in the abduction and slaying of a Katmandu businessman.
Ahead of Wednesday's declaration of a republic, the Maoists' youth wing — a group accused of intimidating, roughing up and killing opponents — was bringing 20,000 of its own people to Katmandu to "make sure the celebration does not get out of hand," said Sagar, the group's leader in the capital, who goes by a single name.
Authorities, meanwhile, deployed some 10,000 police around the city Tuesday, a day after banning protests near the convention center and palace.
But the bombings and heavy security did little to dampen the spirits of ordinary Nepalis, many of whom eagerly awaited the assembly's first session Wednesday.
"We are Nepal now. It is no longer the king's country," said Ram Shrestha, a 26-year-old store clerk. "Tomorrow we will celebrate and he will leave the palace."
Hours after the swearing in, King Gyanendra and Queen Komal drove out of the palace in their black Mercedes on a "personal excursion," but were expected back later in the evening, a palace official said. He would not say where they were going, and insisted on anonymity in line with palace rules.
If Gyanendra peacefully leaves the palace for good, he is expected to move to the palatial private Katmandu home where he lived before assuming the throne in 2001 following a massacre at the royal palace in which a gunman — allegedly the crown prince — shot and killed the late King Birendra and much of the royal family before killing himself.
The killings helped pierce the mystique surrounding Nepal's monarchy. Gyanendra became deeply unpopular after dismissing a civilian government in 2005 and seizing power for himself, saying he needed the authority to crush the Maoists.
A year later, with the insurgency intensifying and the economy faltering, Gyanendra was forced to restore democracy after weeks of pro-democracy protests.
He has since lost command of the army and all his other powers; his portrait has disappeared from shop walls and the currency; "royal" has been removed from the name of the army and national airline, and references to the king are gone from the national anthem.