Nepal Maoists storm seat of government as protests continue

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS,

Kathmandu : Hundreds of Maoist supporters waving red banners and the flag of their once-outlawed party encircled the seat of the government in the capital Sunday, continuing their protests against the ruling alliance even after calling off their general strike.

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“The prime minister must quit and a national government come in place,” marchers cried as they surrounded Singha Durbar, a former palace that now houses the Prime Minister’s Office and most ministries.

“Our protests will continue till there is consensus and guarantee for peace and a new constitution.”

Though a dozen ministers and several bureaucrats reached their offices early to avoid being caught in the protests, the work of the administration came to a standstill with protesters cutting off access from 9 a.m.

The opposition party said the blockade would remain till 5 p.m.

Demonstrations also began in districts outside Kathmandu valley as the former rebels determined to show their might after being compelled by increasing public and diplomatic pressure to call off their general strike after six days.

A defiant Maoist chief and former prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, however, said the strike had not been called off but merely postponed.

“The six-day strike was a historic rehearsal,” the former revolutionary thundered at a mass meet in the capital Saturday. “The real drama will start before May 28 if the government fails to address the demand for peace and constitution through a national government.”

Though Nepal’s industrial organisations and diplomatic missions, who played a leading role in compelling the Maoists to call off the strike, gave the warring sides till the weekend to reach an agreement, it was clear that the crisis would not be resolved by then.

Embattled Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, whose party is only the third-largest in parliament and who himself lost the election from both his constituencies two years ago, Saturday refused to step down, a move that the Maoists say is necessary to create an atmosphere for dialogue and agreement.

Nepal, who met a delegation of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry and Nepal Chamber of Commerce Sunday, said the Maoists needed first to empty their guerrilla army cantonments and disband their youth wing, the Young Communist League, which the ruling parties allege is paramilitary in nature.

“To reach an agreement, the Maoists have to use the language of consensus, not the language of intimidation,” Nepal told the delegates, according to a statement issued by the PMO.

The embattled PM also said the government could have used force to break up the blockade. However, it chose not to foment further differences.

While the Maoists and the ruling parties continue their protracted war, Nepal is facing a rapidly approaching constitutional crisis.

If the parties fail to promulgate a new constitution by May 28, parliament will get dissolved automatically along with the government.

The government can stave that off by declaring a state of emergency.

The only peaceable way out is to amend the constitution and extend the date for the new statute. However, for that, the ruling parties need the approval of the Maoists, the largest party in the house, who are not likely to cooperate till Nepal quits.