'We will turn mass meeting into an election rally'

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Kathmandu, Sep18: Nepal's Maoists were set to quit the interim government and launch street protests if the prime minister did not meet their deadline to agree to abolishing the Himalayan monarchy before elections.

The Maoist conflict that began in 1996 killed more than 13,000 people and hit the aid- and tourism-dependent economy of Nepal, one of the world's poorest nations. The Maoists, who had been battling the monarchy since 1996, ended their insurgency last year under a peace deal with the government, which agreed to hold elections for a special assembly to decide the fate of the monarchy.

But the Maoists now say the nation must be declared a republic ahead of the Nov 22. vote, insisting that King Gyanendra and his supporters were trying to sabotage the election.

The former guerrillas have called a rally in the hill-ringed capital and say they will leave the government if Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala failed to meet their demand by noon.

The Maoists will keep to the ceasefire even if they quit the government, party officials said. The former rebels insist they still want the election to be held on time and will take to the streets to guarantee that. Maoist chief Prachanda was expected to meet Koirala today in what appears to be his final push for an agreement.

''If there is a consensus we will turn today's mass meeting into an election rally,'' senior Maoist leader Ananta said. ''But there is very little possibility for that,'' he said.

''If there is no agreement we will pull out from the government and begin a countrywide protest movement.'' The government appealed to the Maoists not to quit.

''Any protest ahead of the election will only help the reactionaries. So they should cancel the planned protest movement,'' Peace and Reconstruction Minister Ram Chandra Poudel said.

The new government has already stripped the monarch of almost all powers, including his control over the army.


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