Prachanda quits as Nepal PM after army row escalates (Second Lead)

May 4th, 2009 - 5:32 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, May 4 (IANS) Nepal’s first Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda Monday announced his resignation in a televised address to the nation sending shock waves through the nation and raising grave questions about peace and stability in the turbulent Himalayan republic.

The former revolutionary’s resignation came after two major allies of his coalition government pulled out Sunday following a long quarrel over the sacking of the army chief, leaving the Prachanda government under the cloud of a no-trust vote in parliament and likely defeat.

In his brief message, the 55-year-old, who rose from the grassroots to lead a 10-year armed uprising against the government, blamed the political parties, which included the opposition as well as his own allies, as well as “foreign powers” for the lack of progress made by his eight-month government.

Without naming India, he also accused the southern neighbour of interfering in Nepal’s internal matters and said the country would never bow down before foreign masters.

The prime minister also charged President Ram Baran Yadav of going against the constitution by reinstating army chief Gen Rookmangud Katawal who, he said, had been dismissed by an elected government to ensure the sovereignty of the people.

The presidential move was a death blow to Nepal’s “fledgling republic”, he said.

At the end of the address, during which Prachanda fumbled and looked ill at ease, he announced his resignation, evoking images of a similar televised address by deposed king Gyanendra three years ago when the monarch stepped down as head of government after widespread protests.

The resignation was welcomed by the opposition Nepali Congress party that Monday had begun calling for Prachanda’s resignation.

“It was a good decision,” former minister and NC lawmaker Prakash Man Singh said. “Since his government became a minority one with the pullout of the communists and the Nepal Sadbhavana Party, there was no moral ground for it to continue.”

The alienation of the Maoists, who won the highest number of seats in the last election, was underscored Monday when a crucial cabinet meeting called by Prachanda hours before his resignation was boycotted by the two remaining allies, the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum and Communist Party of Nepal (United).

Singh said his party had begun consultations with the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) for the formation of a new government.

“We are likely to support a UML-led government from outside,” he said.

Fears of violence spread through the nation as public rallies erupted in the capital, Banepa and Birgunj cities.

While Maoist cadres condemned the president, eight sister organisations of the NC, joined by the UML’s youth wings, criticised the “despotic” nature of the Maoist government.

To pre-empt clashes, Kathmandu authorities prohibited rallies and demonstrations in front of the army headquarters and Shital Niwas, the residence and office of the president.

The fall of the Maoist government raises fresh fears about the fate of the fragile peace process, especially the proposed merger of their guerrilla fighters with the Nepal Army and the drafting of a new constitution by next year.

It also creates a bad precedent of the army and constitutional head of state locking horns with an elected government.

While there was no immediate reaction from the international community, the UN, watching the developments with rising concern, called for restraint and consensus.

“The secretary general is seriously concerned about the current political crisis in Nepal centred on the relationship between the government and the chief of army staff and the possible risks posed to the peace process,” a statement issued by the UN chief’s office in New York said.

“The secretary general calls on all concerned to resolve the crisis through dialogue and consensus, with full respect for the provisions of the constitution.”

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