Nepal's King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev, Queen Aiswarya, Prince Niranjan and Princess Shruti, along with eight others, were shot dead by Crown Prince Dipendra after a dispute over his marriage in Kathmandu late on Friday night.
Sources in Kathmandu told rediff.com that the crown prince, who also shot himself, was anointed king on Saturday afternoon. Some reports said the prince had a feeble pulse and underwent an operation, but was now said to be 'brain dead.' Sources in Kathmandu said he would officially be declared dead after his parents' funeral on Saturday.
The tragedy occurred at the Narayanahity palace after dinner, when 29-year-old Dipendra opened fire on his family, following arguments over his choice of bride, which was reportedly opposed by the queen.
His brother Niranjan, 22, and sister, Shruti, 25, a mother of two children, were among those killed in the massacre, that occurred at around 2300 hours local time, sources close to Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala said.
Also killed were King Birendra's sisters Princesses Sharda and Shanti and his brother-in-law Kumar Khadga. Another member of the family, Prince Dhirendra, was critically wounded. As one observer pointed out, it was the worst royal massacre since the Communists killed Tsar Nicholas II and his family in Russia in November 1917.
Earlier, it was reported that King Birendra would be succeeded by his younger brother Prince Gyanendra, who was not in Kathmandu when tragedy struck. Prince Gyanendra, who flew to the capital from the winter palace in Pokhra, will be the regent.
The Raj Parishad or state council standing committee, which acts as the royal advisory body, convened an emergency session to assess the situation. The council, which includes the prime minister, chief justice and commander-in-chief of the armed forces among others, oversees the royalty.
It is empowered to decide 'whether His Majesty is mentally or physically incapacitated,' pass 'a resolution confirming such incapacity by a majority of two-thirds of its total membership,' and 'proclaim the crown prince to be the regent if he has attained the age of eighteen years,' and 'in other circumstances, it shall, subject to rules made by His Majesty, proclaim a Regent or Council of Regency.'
Many residents of Kathmandu, who woke up to the shocking news, collected near the palace, which had been cordoned off by the police. State radio and television did not broadcast morning news bulletins. Instead, it extended the religious programmes which are beamed every morning.
According to some reports, astrologers had advised the royal family that Dipendra, who had been educated at Eton, should not be allowed to marry or have children until 35. Dipendra would have turned 30 on June 27.
The seers had apparently warned that if the directive was not followed, the king would die.
Sources said the prince wished to marry the daughter of a former minister, a member of the aristocratic Ranas who ruled Nepal until 1951.
King Birendra, 55, had ruled as an absolute monarch from 1972 until 1990, when his role became constitutional, following a popular people's uprising. He ascended the throne on January 31, 1972, succeeding his father King Mahendra.
Born on December 28, 1945 at the same palace where he was assassinated, Birendra was also educated at Eton, besides the University of Tokyo and Harvard University. He married Queen Aiswarya in February 1970.
The massacre comes at a time of political woes in Nepal, as Opposition parties have been demanding Koirala's resignation for his government's alleged role in a bribery scandal and for not quelling a Maoist insurgency.
Deputy Prime Minister Ram Chandra Paudel confirmed that Dipendra was responsible for the massacre, ruling out any involvement of Maoist rebels who have been waging an insurgency since 1996, seeking to overthrow the monarchy.
"This is the most unfortunate and shocking event," Paudel said.
Prince Gyanendra, 54, has had a chequered career, setting up a popular trekking route and leading conservation efforts on one hand, while embarrassing the royal family with unpaid utility bills and a controversial son on the other hand.
In January, the Nepal Samacharpatra newspaper reported that Gyanendra owed more than Rs 10 million to the state-owned Nepal Electricity Authority. Last August, hundreds took to the streets after his son Paras Shah knocked down wellknown singer Praveen Gurung, apparently the younger prince's third victim in four years.
The infant Gyanendra was monarch for about two months in 1950-51, when his father then crown prince Mahendra, grandfather King Tribhuvan and other members of the royal family including then prince Birendra fled to India to escape political turmoil at home.
rediff news bureaux, agencies
Death of a Monarch: The Complete Coverage
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New York Times: Royal Family of Nepal Are Killed in Palace Shooting
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