Nepal PM backtracks in priest row

Kathmandu, Nepal - Nepalese Prime Minister Prachanda has cancelled the appointment of two leading priests at the country's holiest Hindu temple.

Their nominations last week led to protests by junior priests angered over what they said was the breaking of a centuries-old custom.

Senior priests at the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu traditionally come from among high caste Hindus in India.

But the government said it wanted them to come from Nepal instead.


"I have cancelled the appointment of the new priests immediately and urge the old priests to continue with the religious ceremonies," Prachanda told the constituent assembly on Wednesday.

He also ordered the temple authorities to have regular prayers performed by the former priests until the new incumbents are appointed - in the interests of "religious harmony".

The government took over the appointment process following the abolition of the monarchy, which used to perform the role of approving Indian candidates. Prachanda is now a patron of the temple.

The temple - which is listed as a World Heritage Site - is visited by thousands of pilgrims from Nepal and India every year.

Riot police were last week deployed at the temple to stop protesters angered over the move. They accused the government of "appointing their own people".

Priests at Pashupatinath have for the last 250 years been led by high caste Brahmins recruited from southern India.

The move to get rid of them was seen as a reflection of wider changes in the past year with the former Maoist rebels coming to power.

Last Thursday, Nepal's Supreme Court directed the temple authorities not to let the newly appointed Nepali priests perform rituals.

The temple complex sits on a sacred river on the edge of Kathmandu and rises up from the bank amid a mass of pagoda-style buildings.