April 26, 2006

Nepal eyes truce, Maoists urged to end blockade

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal's incoming government is likely
to offer Maoist rebels a ceasefire, political leaders said on
Wednesday and urged the insurgents to end a fresh blockade of
the capital.

Their appeal came as life slowly returned to normal in
Kathmandu, hit by weeks of often bloody anti-monarchy protests
and a huge victory celebration on Tuesday when 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

"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 weeks of street
protests against the king, 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."

The seven-party alliance celebrated victory on Tuesday
after Gyanendra agreed to hand over political power and restore
the country's dissolved parliament.

Hundreds of thousands took to the streets of the capital
waving party flags and celebrating the rebirth of democracy.
Other big rallies took place across the country.


But the Maoists 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.

The rebels want elections for a special assembly with the
task of writing a new constitution and reviewing the future of
the monarchy.

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 toward
constituent assembly elections once it reconvenes on Friday for
the first time in four years.

Bohara said there was broad consensus on the need to review
the constitution.

"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," he told Reuters.

Incoming prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala of the Nepali
Congress called on the rebels to call off their protests.

"The constituent assembly is the main agenda of the new
parliament," he said in a statement on Wednesday. "I urge the
Maoists to end the blockade and protests."

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