Khanal seeks to form national government

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Shirish B. Pradhan

Kathmandu, Feb 4 (PTI) Nepal''s new Prime MinisterJhala Nath Khanal said today that he will try to form anational consensus government, including the Nepali Congress,that will give top priority to the rehabilitation andintegration of the former Maoists combatants with the army.

"I will try to form a national consensus governmentand for that I will hold talks with Nepali Congress and theMadhesi parties to find out a common ground,� said Khanal, whois likely to be sworn in on Sunday.

60-year-old Khanal, leader of the Communist Party ofNepal (United Marxist-Leninist), also underlined that hisgovernment will try to speed up the peace process and therehabilitation and integration of the former Maoistscombatants with the security forces.

Progress on completing the peace process that beganwhen the Maoists laid down their arms in 2006 has beenheld up, with thousands of former Maoist soldiers housed incamps as they wait for their fate to be decided.

"I will give top priority to the management of theMaoist combatants and successful conclusion of the peaceprocess," he said at his party office on the outskirts of thecapital soon after being welcomed by hundreds of cadresfollowing his to victory yesterday.

Khanal was elected the prime minister yesterday in athree cornered contest, ending the seven-month deadlock overthe formation of a new government after Maoist supremoPrachanda quit the race in his favour in a last minute deal.

The Communist leader, who secured 368 of the 557 votescast in the 601-member Parliament, defeated R C Poudyal of theNepali Congress as he managed 122 votes.

For the leader of the Nepali Congress, which has113 lawmakers in parliament, it was his 17th defeat sinceMadhav Kumar Nepal quit on June 30.

Khanal''s party, which is the third largest party inthe parliament with 108 seats, got support from the MaoistParty, which is the single largest party with 238 lawmakers.

In a surprise move, CPN-Maoist withdrew Prachanda fromthe Prime Ministerial race and decided to support Khanal.

The seven-month political crisis has been hugelydamaging for Nepal, which is still reeling from its decade ofcivil war that ended in 2006. The standoff has delayed thedrafting of a new constitution and conclusion of the peaceprocess.

Khanal said he was optimistic about promulgating thenew constitution by May end, the stipulated date set by theConstituent Assembly.

"I will try to complete the task of drafting theconstitution and concluding the peace process by accommodatingeveryone," he said.

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