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President seeks new Nepal government by Saturday, Maoists on war path

By Sudeshna Sarkar,IANS,

Kathmandu : Nepal’s President Ram Baran Yadav, one of the key figures in the triangular drama that led to the fall of the Maoist-led government and triggered a constitutional crisis, Tuesday set a Saturday deadline for the formation of a new consensus government, a directive strongly rejected by the former guerrillas.

Shital Niwas, the presidential office, asked Nepal’s 25 parliamentary parties to form a new consensus government by Saturday to fill the vacuum left by Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda’s resignation Monday after a protracted row over the dismissal of the army chief.

However, the presidential directive seems doomed to fail.

The Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), the ally of the Maoist government whose pullout over the sacking row led to the collapse of the coalition, called a meeting of all parties but was boycotted by the Maoists.

The meeting, supported by the main opposition, former prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s Nepali Congress, was also boycotted by another former ruling alliance member, the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF).

“We will not attend the meeting,” Maoist spokesman and lawmaker Dinanath Sharma said after the parliamentary wing of his party called a council of war Tuesday to discuss its new strategy.

“We have also decided not to allow the interim parliament to conduct regular proceedings till army chief Gen Rookmangud Katawal is sacked and the unconstitutional step taken by the President, Dr Ram Baran Yadav, (in reinstating Katawal) is rectified.

“We will keep up pressure through the house and the street.”

As part of the pressure tactic, protests condemning the presidential interference’ erupted in Kathmandu and outer districts like Mahottari, Nawalparasi and Palpa with Maoist cadres burning Yadav’s effigy.

Police said 63 people – mostly leading human rights activists and civil society leaders – were arrested after they defied a prohibitory order and tried to stage a sit-in before the presidential office and residence.

“We have the right to hold peaceful protests,” said Devendra Raj Pandey, a leading human rights activist. “We will keep up our protests till the president takes back his unconstitutional step.”

With a consensus government unlikely by Saturday, Nepal seems destined to repeat last year’s history when the same difficulty finally made the interim parliament elect a prime minister by simple majority.

If the parties fail to meet the Saturday deadline, the president will have to call for a vote in the house. However, that too seems impossible with the Maoists deciding to obstruct parliament till Yadav or his controversial decision goes.

However, a solution could come from the Supreme Court.

Inhured International, Nepal’s oldest rights organisation, Monday moved court, accusing the president of having overstepped his jurisdiction.

Five lawyers Tuesday asked judge Balram KC to stay the reinstatement, saying the president had acted unconstitutionally by countermanding the order of the elected government.

The UML said it would leave it to the court to resolve the row.

“Though there are questions about the legality of the president reinstating the army chief, we realise that it was done to resolve the growing crisis,” said UML lawmaker Shanker Pokhrel.

“While we feel the Maoists acted unilaterally by sacking the army chief when it was not endorsed by any other party, we are happy to leave the issue of the president to the court.”

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon once again asked the warring parties to honour the peace pacts ahead of a UN Security Council meeting.

While saddened by developments leading to Prachanda’s resignation, Ban however was encouraged by the former guerrillas’ assurances of their commitment to the peace process, including continued participation in the drafting of the constitution.

Reiterating his call for restraint and political consensus, Ban has asked all the stakeholders to “strictly” adhere to the comprehensive peace agreement signed in 2006 that led to the end of the communist insurgency and all other associate pacts.

The statement came ahead of the UN Security Council meeting in New York to discuss a recent report on the developments submitted by Ban.

Ban’s representative in Nepal, UN Mission in Nepal chief Karin Landgren, would brief the Security Council on the current situation in the country.