Nepal Maoists quit govt, vow to disrupt elections

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KATHMANDU, Sep 18 (Reuters) Nepal's Maoist former rebels quit the interim government today and vowed to disrupt preparations for historic elections in November unless the Himalayan nation's monarchy was abolished immediately.

The move is a major setback to last year's peace deal in which the rebels ended a decade-old insurgency and agreed on elections for a special assembly to decide the fate of the monarchy.

''We will not accept the code of conduct announced by the election commission and we will disrupt all ongoing election plans,'' Maoist deputy leader Baburam Bhattarai told a rally in Kathmandu.

Bhattarai, speaking hours after the Maoists quit the government after failed talks with Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and major political parties, also warned the former rebels could take up arms again if their demands were ignored.

But he stopped short of announcing a boycott of the polls.

''We will launch peaceful protests, but we have the right to counter those who try to suppress our peaceful programme,'' he told thousands of cheering supporters beneath a large poster of Maoist leader Prachanda.

The Maoists have been insisting the nation must be declared a republic ahead of the November 22 vote, saying King Gyanendra and his supporters were trying to sabotage the election.

Now they say they will launch protests in all of Nepal's 4,000 villages and in front of district administration offices in its towns to press their demands.

They also called for a three-day general strike from Oct.

4, when the candidates for the election are supposed to file their nomination papers.

MAOISTS NERVOUS? Analysts said the Maoists, who entered mainstream politics only last year, were nervous about how well they would do in the polls, and were trying to distance themselves from the government.

''The real story is that the Maoist leadership has been under considerable pressure from its cadre about not being able to do much despite having five ministries,'' said Kunda Dixit, editor of the influential weekly Nepali Times.

''The Maoists' own evaluation is that they will not fare well in the polls, so to maximise their chances they want to be seen as an opposition party and a genuine force for change.'' The new government has already stripped the monarch of almost all his powers, including his control over the army.

The Maoist conflict that began in 1996 killed around 13,000 people and hit the aid- and tourism-dependent economy of Nepal, one of the world's poorest nations.

REUTERS ARB KP1743

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