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Nepal rebels suspend blockade of capital, major towns

Written by: Staff
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KATHMANDU, Apr 26 (Reuters) Nepal's Maoist rebels suspended a blockade of the capital today after the country's incoming prime minister assured them elections would be held for an assembly to frame a new constitution.

The Maoists said they had lifted the blockade on Kathmandu and major towns until parliament meets on Friday for the first time in four years, but they reiterated their key demand -- a new constitution and a review of the role of the monarchy.

''We have withdrawn our call for a blockade in response to an appeal from the Nepali Congress President Girija Prasad Koirala...

until the first meeting of the parliament,'' Maoist leader Prachanda said in a statement.

Koirala is set to become Nepal's next prime minister after King Gyanendra handed over power to the country's main political parties in response to weeks of often bloody street protests.

The veteran politician, four times prime minister, had earlier appealed to the powerful Maoists to end their blockade.

''The constituent assembly is the main agenda of the new parliament,'' Koirala said in a statement today.

Life slowly returned to normal in Kathmandu after weeks of protests and a huge victory celebration yesterday after King Gyanendra reconvened the dissolved parliament.

Streets were crowded with tourists and shoppers and public transport was working. Political parties said their first priority would be to bring the Maoists back into the mainstream and called for a ceasefire with the rebels.

''The state should take the first initiative and declare a ceasefire,'' said Amrit Kumar Bohara, a top leader of the Communist Party of Nepal (UML), the second biggest party. Senior leaders of the Nepali Congress party, the biggest of the alliance of seven parties which led the street protests, echoed the sentiment.

''We must have a ceasefire, call the Maoists for talks and call elections for a constituent assembly,'' said Arjun Narsingh K C, a senior Nepali Congress leader. ''This is one of the first steps the new government must take.'' Hundreds of thousands took to the streets of the capital yesterday waving party flags and celebrating the rebirth of democracy. Other big rallies took place across the country.

BROAD CONSENSUS

The Maoists had spoiled the party by rejecting the deal between the king and the political parties, urging people to continue protests and declaring a blockade on Kathmandu and district capitals.

They were unhappy that the king's address made no mention of their demand for a constituent assembly.

Mainstream political parties backed that demand when they entered a loose alliance with the Maoists last year and agreed on a roadmap to bring an end to the decade-long insurgency which has killed more than 13,000 people.

Political leaders said parliament would move swiftly towards constituent assembly elections once it reconvenes on Friday.

''The constituent assembly is not only a demand of the Maoists, it has now become a demand of the popular movement and of the seven political parties,'' Boraha told Reuters.

The seven parties plan another victory rally in the heart of the capital tomorrow, to be addressed by senior leaders.

REUTERS

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