Supreme Court Deals Blow to King's Rule in Nepal

A former prime minister of Nepal has been released from prison after the anti-corruption panel that sentenced him was struck down as illegal. Sher Bahadur Deuba's release is seen as a political defeat for Nepal's king, who seized power a year ago.

Former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba was given a two-year prison sentence last July by an anti-corruption commission that found him guilty of embezzling millions of dollars.

But he was released Tuesday, before completing his sentence, when Nepal's Supreme Court dissolved the anti-corruption panel, saying it was "against the norms and spirit of the constitution." The Court said all decisions made by the panel were invalid.

Jubilant supporters of Deuba called his release and the dissolution of the commission a "humiliating defeat for the royal government and a victory for democracy."

King Gyanendra established the controversial anti-graft panel last year after kicking out the government for failing to tackle a communist insurgency. He also accused the government of corruption, and said the panel would bring guilty officials to justice. His critics accused him of using the body to crack down on political adversaries.

The former prime minister was the highest-ranking official jailed by the commission. Soon after returning home Tuesday, Deuba said he would dedicate himself to the task of restoring democracy.

S.D. Muni, a South Asia analyst in New Delhi, predicts the former prime minister's release will give fresh momentum to pro-democracy activists in Nepal, who have been holding regular street protests and rallies in the capital Kathmandu.

"The credibility of the February 1 takeover has been dented further - not that it needs any more dents," Muni said. "That is one thing. Then the agitation would build up, there would be more violence, more disturbances, more anarchy."

Political analysts also say the court's decision to strike down the anti-corruption panel will boost the morale of political parties and activists fighting to end the king's direct rule.

Discontent with the king has been rising steadily, but so far he has ignored calls to open a dialogue with the political parties and restore an elected government.

His royalist administration held local elections last week saying they were the first step back towards democracy, but a boycott by political parties and low voter turnout marred the elections' credibility.