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Nepal rebels threaten protests for early polls

Written by: Staff

Kathmandu, Sep 2: Nepal's Maoist rebels threatened today to launch street protests to press the multiparty government for early elections to an assembly that would draw up a new constitution.

''The government is lingering. We cannot continue to remain in limbo like this,'' rebel spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara told Reuters after a central committee meeting of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).

The Maoists have fought since 1996 to topple the monarchy and establish a communist state, a conflict in which more than 13,000 people have died.

However, violent street protests in April organised by seven political parties and backed by the Maoists forced King Gyanendra to end his absolute rule and restore democracy.

In June, the Maoists agreed a power-sharing deal with the government to form an interim legislature to replace the existing parliament, which does not include the rebels.

That administration is meant to oversee the constituent assembly elections, a key Maoist demand to end their revolt that has wrecked an economy dependent on aid and tourism and has displaced more than 200,000 people.

No date has been fixed for the vote, and peace talks have stalled because the rebels refuse to disarm. They want the monarchy abolished before the vote while the government says the king's fate should be decided by the elected assembly.

''These are the key political issues that need to be settled at the highest level between us and the seven-party government,'' Mahara told Reuters.

''We have formed a 10-member team headed by party chairman Prachanda to negotiate these subjects with top party leaders and the government.

''If there is progress in a reasonable time of 10 or 15 days, it's okay. Otherwise we will go to the people and launch peaceful street protests to achieve what the people want.'' In July the new government and rebels agreed to confine their respective armies and weapons to temporary camps and barracks under United Nations supervision. The arrangement does not include the 100,000-strong Maoist ''militia'' and their small arms.

Analysts said the rebels were trying to divert attention from the arms issue ahead of the vote expected to be held next year.

''They know if they lay down arms they will lose the elections.

So they don't want to leave their weapons,'' said Prateek Pradhan, editor of the daily Kathmandu Post.


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