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Former Nepal PM Sushil Koirala dies

Sushil Koirala

Kathmandu :  Nepal’s former Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, a moderate leader who had backed friendly ties with India and was instrumental in the ushering in of the new Constitution last year, died here early today.

The 79-year-old leader, who was Prime Minister from February 2014 to October 2015, died at his residence in Maharajgunj in the outskirts of capital Kathmandu at 12.50 am (local time) due to pneumonia, Nepali Congress general secretary Prakash Man Singh said.

Koirala, the president of the country’s biggest political party, the Nepali Congress, which has always maintained good relations with Indian political system, was suffering from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

His doctor Kabirnath Yogi said Koirala, who was earlier successfully treated for lung cancer in the US, died after he developed pneumonia after a bout of bronchitis’ infection due to change in the weather.

“He had a normal meal yesterday evening. All of a sudden, Koirala’s health deteriorated and he breathed his last at 12:50 am.”

After assuming office, he was tasked with formulating the long-delayed Constitution to bring stability to the nation after years of ethnic conflict and the abolition of the 239-year-old monarchy.

Koirala maintained good ties with India during his tenure but came under pressure to change his stance towards the end of his term due to the crippling blockade imposed by Madhesis, mostly of Indian-origin, to oppose the Constitution, sparking violence in the country.

More than 50 people were killed in clashes between police and Madhesi demonstrators who say the new charter leaves them politically marginalised. The nearly five-month-long blockade of key trading points with India was lifted by the Madhesis only yesterday.

Koirala had a balanced view about India. He was among the SAARC leaders who had attended Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony in May 2014.

He came from a leading political dynasty of Nepal with his cousin Girija Prasad Koirala also serving as Nepal’s Premier before him.

Koirala’s body will be kept at Dasharath Stadium to enable party cadres and others to pay tributes.

An emergency Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli decided to hold Koirala’s funeral with full state honours tomorrow. The national flag will be kept half-mast at all government offices for three days.

Koirala entered politics in 1954 and was in political exile in India for 16 years following the royal takeover of 1960. He was unmarried.

He also spent three years in Indian prisons for his alleged involvement in a plane hijacking in 1973. The plane was said to be carrying boxes of cash, which he and his relatives wanted to use to fund the Nepali Congress.

He faced criticism for his government’s response to a massive quake that devastated the country last April, killing nearly 9,000 people.

Koirala had been expected to face a leadership challenge in the Nepali Congress next month. He was known for his simple life and quiet character.

Meanwhile, Nepali Congress postponed its electoral process prior to the General Convention.

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