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Nepal PM resigns

31st May 2003

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Nepal's Prime Minister Lokendra Bahadur Chand yesterday resigned from his post, adding to the political confusion in the Himalayan kingdom and casting a shadow over peace talks with Maoist rebels.

A palace statement announced the resignation and said King Gyanendra had immediately summoned political leaders for consultations on a possible successor and a new council of ministers.

The statement added that the king had asked the government to continue until a new council of ministers has been finalised.

"Prime Minister Lokendra Bahadur Chand has tendered his resignation to His Majesty King Gyanendra and the king has accepted his resignation," the palace statement said.

Maoist rebels yesterday said it was too soon to know if the change in government would affect ongoing peace talks aimed at ending a seven-year-old "people's war" in which some 7 800 people have died.

"We will wait and see what is the constitution of the new government.

"We are not in a position to say whether the change will affect the peace process or not," Ram Karki, who is close to Maoist chief negotiator Babu Ram Bhattarai, told AFP.

"But cosmetic change makes no difference to us, our main concern is about the formation of an all party government and the holding of a round table conference to discuss the formation of a constitutional assembly to help draft a new constitution," Karki said.

Chand, appointed after the king on October 4 sacked the then Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and dissolved parliament, has been the focus of increasingly violent street protests in Kathmandu and other towns.

The resignation was a bid to defuse the growing anger against the monarch by members of five political parties who were represented in the now-dissolved parliament, a highly placed government source said.

The political parties, supported by students, have been leading street protests in support of the reinstatement of parliament, with many political leaders injured in recent weeks in police baton charges.

The political parties are also opposed to a ceasefire the Chand government signed with Maoist rebels in January, because they were not consulted by the king.

Two rounds of peace talks between the government and the Maoists have since been held, both boycotted by the parties.

Political observers said that because the members of the government peace talks team are, in fact, emissaries of the king rather than Chand, they are likely to continue as negotiators.

Madhav Kumar Nepal, general secretary of the Nepal Communist Party United Marxist and Leninist (NCP-UML), the largest political group in Nepal, welcomed Chand's resignation, saying it "opens the gate for the formation of a new government".

"The king should seek the cooperation and consent of all political parties," Nepal told AFP, adding, "The new government should be composed of all parties which were represented in the dissolved parliament".

He also urged the king to return sovereign and executive authority, which he had claimed on October 4, to the new government.

If he does not do this, political protests would continue, Nepal warned.

Chand's resignation comes a day after Nepal was in the world spotlight when it celebrated the 50th anniversary of the conquest of its most famous mountain, Everest, by Sir Edmund Hillary and the late Tenzing Norgay Sherpa.

But behind the festivities, political parties opposed to Chand took advantage of the large media presence to press home their demands.

Some 200 members of the parliament joined thousands of other demonstrators in a march on the assembly building Wednesday, which police broke up with batons and tear-gas, injuring around 10 MPs.

The parliamentarians - within full view of journalists gathered in Kathmandu for the Everest anniversary - instead entered a nearby building and declared the session open, in defiance of King Gyanendra. – Sapa-AFP.
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