Nepal's Maoists hold protest against monarchy

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KATHMANDU, Sep 30 (Reuters) Thousands of supporters of Nepal's Maoist former rebels today attended a rally in the capital to press their demands for the abolition of the monarchy.

Carrying banners saying ''We Want A Republic'' and shouting slogans, the activists brought traffic to a halt as they marched through the streets and gathered in a public area in the heart of the hill-ringed capital.

The Maoists plunged the Himalayan country into turmoil early this month when they withdrew from the coalition government, demanding the country be turned into a republic before this year's elections which may decide the fate of the monarchy.

They vowed to disrupt the November 22 vote and called for a three-day general strike starting on October 4 when the candidates were supposed to file nominations.

Today, the country's election commission, acting on a request from the ruling alliance and the Maoists, delayed the nomination process by five days as talks between the government and the former rebels continued to try to resolve the issue.

''The three-day general strike will not go ahead as planned because we are in talks with other political parties to discuss our demands,'' senior Maoist leader Dev Gurung said.

Other campaigns against the monarchy and to press for an election based on a fully proportional representation voting system would continue, he added.

The government says it is trying to persuade the Maoists to re-join the cabinet and participate in the election, a key demand of the former guerrillas during their decade-long civil war which killed more than 13,000 people.

Political analysts and many Nepali politicians say the Maoists, new to mainstream politics, are afraid of losing the polls and want to delay them to take more time to prepare.

The Maoists, however, insist they want elections on time but say the sidelined King Gyanendra and his supporters are trying to stop the polls.

The ex-rebels have vowed to honour last year's ceasefire agreement and not to withdraw from the provisional parliament they joined in January despite leaving the government.

REUTERS SG PM1758

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