KATMANDU – Nepal's deposed king left Katmandu's main palace Wednesday night to begin life as a civilian in the newly declared republic, but he said he had no plans to leave the country.
Former King Gyanendra said he handed in his royal scepter and crown of peacock feathers, yak hair and jewels to the Nepali government Wednesday as he left his home in the capital for one of his former summer palaces in a forested hill on the outskirts of Katmandu.
There, he will be protected by police but will otherwise live as any other Nepali — albeit an incredibly wealthy one who some believe should still reign.
"I have no intention or thoughts to leave the country," Gyanendra said in his first public statement in months. "I will stay in the country to help establish peace."
The vast majority of Nepalis have made it clear they are pleased to see the monarchy go, and while Gyanendra's throne was formally abolished last month, Wednesday's move carries great symbolism in a nation that was ruled by Shah dynasty monarchs for 239 years.
"This marks the beginning of a new Nepal and the end of a dynasty that has done nothing but harm this country," said Devendra Maharjan, a farmer who came to Katmandu to see the king leave the palace. "If it had not been for the kings, Nepal would probably not have remained a poor nation."
Nepal was declared a republic last month after elections that saw the country's former communist rebels win the most seats in a special assembly charged with rewriting the constitution.
"I have accepted the decision," Gyanendra told reporters.
Speaking in a grand palace hall decorated with portraits of the Shah dynasty kings, stuffed tigers and ornate chandeliers, he said: "I have done all I can to cooperate with (the government's) directives."
The Narayanhiti palace has been Gyanendra's home since becoming king in 2001, after a palace massacre in which a gunman — allegedly the crown prince — assassinated King Birendra and much of the royal family before killing himself.
Government officials plan to turn the pink concrete 1970s building into a museum.
After his brother's death, Gyanendra assumed the throne. But the killings helped pierce the mystique surrounding a line of kings who had once been revered as reincarnations of the Hindu god Vishnu.
No proof has ever surfaced that Gyanendra was involved in the massacre, but rumors have swirled for years that he was behind the slaughter.
On Wednesday, he dismissed the accusations as a baseless "campaign to defame the royal institution."
In 2005, Gyanendra seized power from a civilian government, a move that made him deeply unpopular. He said he needed total authority to crush the communist insurgency. But the rebellion intensified, and a year later massive protests forced Gyanendra to restore democracy, after which the rebels began peace talks.
The king does not leave public life a pauper, even if his palaces have been nationalized and his $3.1 million annual allowance cut.
Before assuming the throne, he was known as a tough businessman with interests in tourism, tea and tobacco. He also inherited much of his family's wealth after the palace massacre.
The government is letting Gyanendra live in the summer palace — which was among the royal residences that were nationalized — because the former king's son is living in the family's private Katmandu residence.