Nepal Maoists call indefinite general strike from May 2


Kathmandu : On the eve of the 16th SAARC Summit scheduled to kick off in Bhutan from Wednesday, Nepal’s volatile political situation worsened rapidly Monday with the former Maoist guerrillas announcing an indefinite general strike from May 2.

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“Our protest seeks to focus on the need for a national government to ensure peace and a new constitution,” Maoist chief and former prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda said at a packed press conference in the capital even as Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal called a crisis meeting of the ruling parties and urged the former rebels to call off their protest.

Calling the current coalition government the “most corrupt, irresponsible and anti-national in the history of Nepal”, the former revolutionary said the protests would be the third People’s Movement, coming after a pro-democracy wave four years ago that uprooted King Gyanendra’s army-propped government.

“This is a government of people who lost the election,” the Maoist supremo said. “It is bent on a one-point demand: to save its chair at any cost. It does not want to conclude the peace process or to draft a new constitution but to dissolve parliament (where the Maoists are the largest party).”

Amidst reports that the Maoists were giving paramilitary training to their cadre to capture power after a rally May 1, Prachanda said the protests would be peaceful.

“The government is spreading false propaganda intentionally to prepare the ground for a ruthless suppression,” Prachanda said. “The situation that may arise of this would be entirely the government’s responsibility.”

The general strike would cover businesses, industries, educational institutions, transport, and shops and markets, Prachanda said.

Trying to dislodge the coalition government since last year, the Maoists had earlier too called an indefinite strike and a blockade of the country’s only international airport but later called them off.

“The situation is different now,” Prachanda said. “At that time Girija Prasad Koirala (leader of the ruling coalition) was alive and a high-level political mechanism was formed under his leadership to address the situation.”

Prachanda said the strike was necessary because if his party and the people remained silent, the new constitution would not be ready by May 28 and the peace process would break down.

He said he had held talks with visiting US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert O. Blake, Jr, as well as ambassadors from the European Union states to discuss the situation and the upcoming protests.

The western diplomats, he said, reacted positively, hoping that the strike would not be needed and consensus prevail before that.

The announcement puts new pressure on the prime minister whom the Maoists are asking to step down to make way for a new government under them since they emerged as the biggest party after elections in 2008.

Nepal is scheduled to leave for Bhutan Tuesday to attend the SAARC Summit in Thimphu.

Prachanda also came down on India, accusing it of intervention in Nepal’s internal matters.

Without naming New Delhi, he alleged an “invisible power” distributed financial largesse to buy MPs and save the government from dissolving at a time the prime minister’s own party men were campaigning against him.

He also said his short-lived government was pulled down by India to “teach the Maoists a lesson” and that he had broached the issue with Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao during her visit to Nepal.

However, Prachanda said his party was not anti-Indian.

“We want India to form relations with Nepal on a new basis,” he said. “The old ties were based on unequal treaties. These should be scrapped, boundary problems resolved and the (Indo-Nepal) trade deficit addressed.”