Nepal PM refuses to quit, stage set for collision

Though caught in a deepening crisis, Nepal`s embattled PM Madhav Kumar Nepal, however, refused to step down on Friday as he returned from the SAARC Summit in Bhutan.

Kathmandu: Though caught in a deepening crisis, Nepal`s embattled Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, however, refused to step down on Friday as he returned from the SAARC Summit in Bhutan, heightening fears of imminent clashes between security forces and the former Maoist guerrillas.

Even as the Prime Minister`s Office issued a statement saying Indian Premier Manmohan Singh would continue to support the Nepal-led coalition government, the Nepali Prime Minister`s morale was further boosted by an emergency cabinet meeting called soon after his arrival in Kathmandu, during which his ministers pledged their support.

The cabinet reportedly said it would create a bad precedent if a party could topple a government through street protests and asked Nepal not to resign.

On Saturday, when the opposition Maoists plan to stage a show of might in the capital followed by an indefinite general strike countrywide if the PM doesn`t quit, Nepal has called a meeting of the parties supporting the government from outside for emergency consultations.

Meanwhile, Kathmandu turned red as thousands of Maoist cadres poured in from the districts in a bid to enforce the strike from Sunday.

Wearing red T-shirts and bearing red banners, young men and women have begun staging march pasts in the capital and making their presence felt.

There were growing reports of the former rebels taking over schools and public places to billet their cadre and stepping up demands for "donations".

The Nepal Chamber of Commerce called for a closure of shops and markets in Kathmandu Friday in protest against the fund-raising drive.

NCC chief Surendra Malakar said medium-sized businesses were being asked to pay NRS 15,000 for Saturday`s rally and subsequent protests while shops were being asked to provide food grain and vegetables to feed the arriving cadres.

Though the Maoist leadership has been saying the protests would be peaceful unless the government tried to put them down by force, reports continued to pour in about Maoists` People`s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers being caught outside their UN-monitored barracks with weapons.

Even on Friday, police arrested a PLA soldier from Chitwan with a dagger.

Police also said they had seized petrol and other materials used to make crude bombs from a hotel in the capital.

Though the Maoists retaliated by calling it propaganda against their movement so that the government could deploy the army, there is growing fear in the capital of largescale violence and chaos after May Day.

Nepal`s international donors have urged both sides to show restraint.

The Indian Ambassador to Nepal, Rakesh Sood, met the Maoist leadership on Thursday to express concern about the potentially violent situation in the days to come.

The UN, US and European Union have also urged the Maoists to call off their protests and return to talks with the government and the government to show restraint during anti-government demonstrations.