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Nepal crisis deepens; Maoists clash with police
Published on 7 May. 2009 12:43 AM IST
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Police clashed on Wednesday with protesting Maoists, who vowed to block a new government from forming unless the president supported the firing of the country’s army chief - the key dispute that has thrown the Himalayan country into crisis. The clash came after the president on Sunday overruled an order from Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal to fire the country’s military chief. Dahal, a former Maoist guerrilla leader who entered mainstream politics in 2006, accused the army’s leader of refusing to bring former communist fighters into the military. Dahal resigned on Monday in protest. On Wednesday, police used tear gas and bamboo batons to break up a protest of about 500 supporters of Dahal’s Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) in the capital, Kathmandu. No one was seriously injured. Authorities have imposed ban on protests and rallies in key areas of Kathmandu this week. Maoists have been holding protests since Dahal resigned on Monday, and the party’s lawmakers shut down parliament on Tuesday, gathering in front of the assembly hall and chanting slogans. Maoist lawmaker Barsa Man Pun said the lawmakers would continue to block parliament proceedings, making it impossible for a new prime minister to be voted in. “There will be more protests until the president withdraws his unconstitutional decision,” he said. The Maoists, who hold nearly 40 percent of the seats in parliament and retain considerable popular support, could make governing difficult for any new coalition if they are not brought onboard a new government. The street protests highlighted fears that Nepal could be plunged into unrest as it struggles to build a nascent republic after a decade-long civil war that cost around 13,000 lives. The moderate Communist UML party, a former Maoist ally and now the second biggest opposition group, says vigorous efforts were on to persuade the Maoists to return to the government. “There is no alternative to a national unity government without the Maoists in it. This is a reality,” UML general secretary Ishwar Pokarel said. “We’ll hold talks with them and try to form the government as soon as possible,” he said. Writing the country’s new constitution, a key part of a 2006 peace deal that ended the civil war three years ago, without the Maoists would also be difficult. “Without the participation of the Maoists in the government or their strong commitment to the peace process the writing of the new constitution will not be possible,” political analyst Yubaraj Ghimire said. UML officials said their leader Jhal Nath Khanal met Prachanda on Wednesday, but no more details were given. The Maoists have said they would disrupt the parliamentary sittings until army chief General Rookmangud Katawal was sacked. They accused Gen. Katawal of undermining the authority of the civilian government. Business officials say the uncertainty would only deepen economic woes in a country already facing crippling power cuts, high inflation and food shortages. Prachanda meets CPN-UML leader in fence-mending bid Amid deepening political crisis triggered by his sacking of the Army chief, Nepal’s caretaker Premier and Maoist chief Prachanda on Wednesday met former ally Jhalanath Khanal of CPN-UML in a bid to mend fences and favoured forging of “national consensus” to resolve the issue. Prachanda, who went to Khanal’s residence to meet him, told him that he was ready to cooperate if President Ram Baran Yadav rectified his “mistake” of not endorsing the Cabinet’s decision to sack Gen Rukumangad Katawal. Prachanda, who resigned as Prime Minister on Monday, said “there is no other option than moving ahead by forging a national consensus to resolve the current political crisis,” according to UML sources. “We have agreed to continue dialogue between the two parties to improve our relations.” Khanal told reporters after the meeting that he was making efforts to promote cooperation and collaboration among political parties in order to form a government of national consensus. Khanal said he asked the Maoist chief to cooperate in forming a new government and Prachanda assured him that he would not obstruct the process. The Maoist chief responded in a positive manner, he said.

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