Nepal King Makes Sacrifices to Goddess

Nepal's King Gyanendra, facing imminent ouster from the throne, made perhaps his last royal public appearance at a shrine outside Kathmandu on Monday and offered annual prayers to Kali, the Hindu goddess of power.

The 60-year-old king was accompanied by Queen Komal to the temple of Dakshinkali perched by the side of a stream in a jungle-clad ravine 25 km (15 miles) south of Kathmandu.

Gyanendra, facing the abolition of the 239-year-old monarchy after the Maoists emerged as the biggest party in assembly elections in April, offered prayers to the "family deity".

The king sat crossed-legged in front of the deity and made five sacrifices - of a buffalo, a goat, a lamb, a duck and a rooster -- to goddess Kali, a common practice among Nepali Hindus, to please the deity.

"This is a ritual for peace and prosperity for the self and the family," priest Sekhar Prasad Pandit said after performing the 45-minute ritual. "This is done in the hope to get one's desires fulfilled."

As the king arrived driving a black limousine dozens of people including some royalists cheered and offered him flowers.

Some animal rights activists were angry.

"We must immediately stop sacrificing animals in temples," animal rights group, Prannath Kalyan Samaj, said in a pamphlet distributed near the temple.

For centuries the king was revered as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the Hindu god of protection.

But the popularity of Gyanendra, who ascended the throne after the 2001 massacre of King Birendra and eight other royals by the then crown prince, has plummeted after he sacked the government and assumed absolute power three years ago.

Gyanendra, who said he had acted that way to crush an anti-monarchy Maoist insurgency, was forced to hand power back to political parties in 2006 after weeks of deadly protests against his rule.

The staunchly anti-royal Maoists emerged as the biggest political party in the April 10 elections for a special assembly meant to draw up a new constitution and formally declare an end to the monarchy.

The assembly is due to convene its first meeting within a month and is expected to turn Gyanendra, who has already lost almost all powers, into a commoner.

(Additional reporting by Gopal Chitrakar; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

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