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8.8.09 than 200 years after remaining the main prop of Nepal's royal dynasty, the army, dominated by the country's elite and the aristocracy, is

now undergoing a revolution itself with its chief to come from the rank of commoners for the first time in its history.

On Monday, the controversial army chief, Gen Rookmangud Katawal, who opposed the entry of the Maoist guerrillas in the national army and caused the downfall of the Maoist government, goes on leave to be followed by retirement next month.

Prior to that, on Sunday, he will hand over charge to his successor, Lt Gen Chhatramansingh Gurung, the first chief of the Nepal Army to come from the indigenous tribes. In the past, Nepal's army chiefs had always been chosen from the three elite classes: the Shahs, allied to the royal dynasty, the Ranas, allied to the former hereditary prime ministers, and the Chhetris.

Though Katawal himself was a commoner, he had been adopted by King Mahendra, deposed king Gyanendra's father, and had the backing of the palace. Gurung, who has received his military training from institutions in Dehra Dun, the US and China, has a squeaky clean image. He also holds a black belt in taekwondo.

Though Katawal exits next week, his legacy of unrest however lives on through the resumed protests by the Maoists who from Friday began a second blockade of parliament. The previous siege, started in May after Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda resigned as prime minister, had lasted for over two months and caused the peace process to be badly obstructed.

The renewed obstruction, Prachanda has warned, could prevent the new constitution from coming into effect next year. Before he left for London on Saturday, Prachanda also said the Maoist protests would not be assuaged by Katawal's retirement.

"We have asked the government to prove that it puts civilian supremacy above the military," the Maoist chief said. "If Katawal had been removed before going into retirement, it would have been a positive gesture."


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