Nepal’s SAARC Summit row ends after PM says sorry (Lead)

July 30th, 2008 - 1:41 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, July 30 (IANS) The sword hanging over Nepal’s caretaker Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s participation at the 15th SAARC Summit in Sri Lankan capital Colombo was lifted Wednesday after the 83-year-old apologised to other major political parties for not having consulting them about the trip. “We decided to allow Koirala to attend the summit after he expressed regrets for not consulting the parties,” said Communist Party of Nepal Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) leader Amrit Bohora.

“We took the decision since arrangements have been made for the PM to leave Thursday and last-minute changes would send a negative message to the regional forum,” he added.

Earlier the UML, the third largest party in the assembly, had said it would seek a vote in the assembly to stop Koirala.

The embattled prime minister called an emergency meeting of the four largest parties Wednesday to avert a showdown in the house.

Besides his own Nepali Congress party, the other three parties called to the meeting were the Maoists, the UML and the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF).

Koirala’s departure for Colombo Thursday had been in jeopardy with the Maoists and their communist allies fiercely opposing it and calling for the newly elected president Ram Baran Yadav to take the caretaker premier’s place.

The decision by the outgoing cabinet Monday to send a jumbo 35-member delegation to the regional meet under Koirala’s stewardship triggered a raging row with the Maoists warning they would start a fresh spate of protests nationwide if Koirala did not step aside.

“A caretaker prime minister has no right to attend the summit,” Maoist lawmaker Dinanath Sharma had told IANS Wednesday morning before the meeting called by Koirala. “Neither have spouses and outgoing ministers who lost the election.”

The delegation includes Koirala’s daughter, minister without portfolio Sujata Koirala, who lost the April election, and Rosna Mahat, wife of Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat, who is also attending the meet of SAARC foreign ministers as Nepal currently does not have a foreign minister.

The cabinet Monday approved of a budget of Nepali Rs.7.3 million for the jaunt at a time Nepal is reeling under an acute energy crisis for lack of funds to pay its fuel bills.

Maoist chief Prachanda had summoned the Sri Lankan ambassador to Nepal to convey his party’s objection to a caretaker prime minister attending the meet.

The call for stopping Koirala gathered momentum after the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) Tuesday joined forces with the Maoists.

The SAARC feud once again underlines the growing discord between Nepal’s ruling parties, who put behind their traditional rivalry two years ago to oppose King Gyanendra’s power grab.

However, with the king having been deposed, the parties have begun to turn their guns increasingly on one another in the race for power.

After the April election, the Maoists, who emerged as the biggest party, were poised to form the new government and Prachanda, as the new prime minister, was expected to attend the SAARC Summit.

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