Nepal's Maoists may quit government over monarchy

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KATHMANDU, Sep 17 (Reuters) Nepali political parties were making last ditch efforts today to try and convince the former Maoist rebels not to quit the interim government and to withdraw their planned protests in a row over the monarchy.

The Maoists, who had been fighting the monarchy since 1996, ended their civil war last year under a landmark peace deal with the government, which agreed to hold elections for a special assembly to decide the fate of the monarchy.

Those elections are set for November. 22 but the Maoists are now saying that the Himalayan nation must be declared a republic ahead of the vote, insisting that the king and his supporters were trying to sabotage the vote.

They have threatened to pull out of the government and launch street protests to press the demand -- a move the government says would endanger the peace deal.

The Maoists have planned a public rally tomorrow in Kathmandu to unveil details of their protests and announce their decision to quit the government.

''We have urged them to reconsider their decision,'' Peace and Reconstruction Minister Ram Chandra Poudel said.

''If they leave the government it would create a very difficult situation ahead of the election and put the peace process in a trap,'' he said.

Under the peace deal, the Maoists and the government agreed that the first meeting of the special assembly would take a decision about the future of Nepal's centuries-old monarchy the Maoists want abolished.

The monarchy has lost its traditional popularity since King Gyanendra took absolute power in 2005 only to be humbled by street protests last year.

Party officials said they were holding emergency meetings with the Maoists and with Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala to try and resolve the issue, the worst differences since the peace process began last year.

Senior Maoist leader Dinanath Sharma said the provisional parliament that includes them should make a declaration turning the Himalayan nation into a republic.

Some analysts said the Maoists, who entered mainstream politics only recently, could be nervous about the polls and were trying to delay the vote.

Nepali politicians say the Maoists are also continuing intimidation and are extorting money despite ending their revolt.

''There is a widespread feeling that the Maoists have less chance of winning as many seats as will be wrested by other main parties,'' said Lok Raj Baral, head of the independent think-tank Nepal Centre for Strategic Studies.

He said the Maoists want to delay the polls so that they were better organised to face the voters.

''But that will not help them. There will be further erosion of their popularity.'' REUTERS SKB RK1928

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