KATHMANDU, May 6: King Gyanendra’s top palace officials said they were busy making preparations for the Nepalese monarch’s first state visits to India and China, Nepal’s immediate neighbours.

The visit to India, on the invitation of President K.R.Narayanan, will take place at the end of next month, while the trip to China may materialize in July.

Gyanendra was enthroned on June 4 last year in the wake of a palace carnage four days before in which King Birendra, Queen Aishwarya, Crown Prince Dipendra and seven other members of the royal family were killed.

The 55-year-old new king had earlier said he would not go abroad before the first death anniversary of his elder brother, Birendra, and younger brother, Dhirendra.

Although the 1990 constitution stripped the monarchy of absolute powers, Nepal’s kings continue to play an influential role on state affairs. The loyalty of the 50,000-strong army has traditionally been crucial to the reigning kings.

King Gyanendra, like his deceased predecessor, believes that Nepal needs to maintain a balanced relationship with both India and China.

“To play off one against the other would obviously be a short-sighted policy,” the monarch said while talking to newsmen during an audience three months after his enthronement.

But a general perception among the members of the Indian community in Nepal is that the new king will be closer to India due to family reasons, if not for any other thing.

His daughter-in-law, Princess Himani, is a daughter of the royal family of Sikar, India. She was married to Prince Paras, now Crown Prince Paras, in 1999.

However, palace officials contend that family considerations cannot come in the way of a state policy to balance relations with the kingdom’s immediate neighbours.

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