Nepal's Crown Prince on Life Support After Killing Relatives at Palace

After gunning down his monarch parents and several members of the royal family, Crown Prince Dipendra was named king of Nepal Saturday — even as he clung to life in a hospital, suffering from self-inflicted bullet wounds.

A military official said Dipendra went on the shooting rampage Friday night inside the royal palace, reportedly when his mother, the queen of Nepal, objected to his choice of a bride.

After massacring his parents and six other members of his family, the prince tried to kill himself. Dipendra had been declared clinically dead, according to sources, but was kept alive and breathing with a respirator at a military hospital.

Dipendra was named king by Nepal's State Council to replace his dead father, King Birendra. Dipendra's uncle, Prince Gyanendra, was named acting king by the council, which oversees royal affairs.

"Since the king passed away, the council declared Crown Prince Dipendra as the king of Nepal," the council said in a statement. "But since the crown prince is in the hospital and is mentally and physically unsuitable to carry out his duties, the State Council appoints Prince Gyanendra as assistant to the crown."

Although Nepal's monarch has virtually no power, the royal family massacre could further unsettle the political instability already gripping the impoverished Himalayan state. 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 quelling a growing Maoist insurgency.

A funeral procession for the slain King Birendra and other royals got under way at sunset. Hundreds of thousands of mourners lined the streets, wailing, clasping their hands in respect and offering flowers as the bodies were taken from the army hospital for cremation.

The bodies of the king, his wife, a son and daughter were put on palanquins made of bamboo and carried on the shoulders of Brahmin priests clad in white vests and loincloths.

The procession, broadcast live on state television, followed an 8-mile route to the Pashupatinath temple on the bank of the Bagmat River, where the bodies were to be cremated. Hindus in Nepal must be cremated within 24 hours of their death.

The White House issued a statement Saturday in which President Bush said he was dismayed by the killings, and sent his sympathies to the surviving members of the royal family and to the Nepalese people.

"I am deeply saddened and shocked at King Birendra's untimely death," said Bush, who was spending the weekend at the First Family retreat in Camp David, Md. "I also mourn the loss of Queen Aishwarya and other family members ... Our prayers are with the government and people of Nepal."

Details of Dipendra's injuries were not released. The decision on whether to remove him from life support could fall to his uncle, the acting king, or his only other close relative, the slain king's 73-year-old stepmother, Ratna Rajya Laxmi Devi Shah, Nepal's Queen Mother.

At least three others were wounded in the rampage and were reported in stable condition.

Dipendra, 29, shot all immediate members of the royal family late Friday, including his father, King Birendra, 55; his mother, Queen Aiswarya, 51; his brother, Prince Nirajan, 22; and his sister, Princess Shruti, 24, who had two daughters.

The State Council confirmed that the others killed were Princess Sharada Shah and Princess Shanti Singh, both sisters of the late king; Kumar Khadga Bikram Shah, Princess Sharada's husband; and Princess Jayanti Shah, a cousin of the late king.

The Council said three others were wounded: Gorakh Bikram, Princess Shruti's husband; Komal Shah, the king's cousin; and Prince Dhirendra, the king's youngest brother.

The slaughter at Narayanhiti Royal Palace is believed to have been the worst mass slaying of royals since the Romanovs were killed in 1918 during Russia's civil war.

A military official said the shooting was caused by a dispute over the marriage of the prince, whose mother reportedly objected to the woman he wanted to wed. The royal family had gathered for dinner Friday night to discuss the wedding.

Sources close to the family said the prince wished to marry the daughter of a former government minister and member of the aristocratic Rana family, which ruled Nepal until 1951.

The bodies of the dead were to be taken in a procession from the army hospital late Saturday and cremated according to Hindu rites near a temple on the banks of the Bagmat River. Prince Gyanendra arrived in the capital by car from the jungle area of Chitwan.

The government declared a five-day mourning period and ordered flags at half-staff. No foreign dignitaries or diplomats were invited to the last rites at the Pashupatinath temple.

Deputy Prime Minister Ram Chandra Paudel called the bloodbath "a national tragedy," and confirmed that the crown prince was to blame.

Paudel told the independent news agency Press Trust of India that the government had ruled out any involvement of Maoist rebels who oppose Nepal's constitutional monarchy.

The shooting reportedly began about 10:40 p.m., and most people didn't learn of the deaths until they awoke Saturday. In Katmandu, the capital, thousands gathered near the royal palace in the heart of the city.

Police in riot gear moved in around the iron walls that surround the modern concrete palace to keep the crowds back. The main street leading to the palace was closed as people gathered on corners to share the news.

"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.

"Shocking is an understatement. We have been orphaned by this loss," said Janardan Sharma, a vegetable vendor who left his morning rounds to head to the palace.

The office of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan released a statement expressing his sorrow and calling for calm.

King Birendra, who took the throne on Jan. 31, 1972, held near absolute power until a popular uprising in 1990 forced him to accept democracy. He became a figurehead royal much like the queen of England, appearing in ceremonies and addressing Parliament once a year.

The royal family is revered in Nepal, where some believe the king is the reincarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu.

Nepal, roughly the size of Tennessee, is squeezed between China and India. It is one of the world's poorest countries, with 21 million people and an annual per capita income of only $213.

The Associated Press contributed to this report