Several injured as Nepal Maoists lay siege to secretariat

Kathmandu: Nepalese riot police clashed with thousands of Maoists who laid siege to the main secretariat today, injuring at least 18 protesters and policemen in a political standoff with the government to force the prime minister to quit.

Unified CPN-Maoist activists surrounded the Singhdurbar secretariat, the main administrative building of the government in the heart of the capital and District Administration Office (DAOs) across the country, two days after calling off their 6-day-old indefinite anti-government general strike.

"The prime minister must quit and a national government come in place," the Maoists shouted as they surrounded the secretariat that houses the Prime Minister?s Office and most ministries. "Our protests will continue till there is consensus and a new constitution."

Thousands of police had been deployed to guard the complex. The police fired tear gas to disperse the demonstrators who laid siege to the complex.

Over twenty people, including Deputy Superintendent of Police Bhola Rawal, were injured. Some Maoist cadres were also wounded in the scuffle with riot police.

Protesters also attacked mediapersons, who have been accused by the former rebels of portraying a negative image of the Maoists cadres and the strike.

Three journalists, including two cameramen, were attacked by the Maoists cadres near Singhdurbar today.

Thousands of Maoists cadres remain in the capital to build pressure on the embattled Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal to quit ahead of a deadline for a new constitution at the end of this month.

Nepalese political leaders are struggling to meet a May 28 deadline to finish the drafting of a new constitution as stipulated by the 2006 peace process.

The Maoists, who have around 35 per cent of the seats in parliament, want the government disbanded, followed by the formation of a new coalition government led by them to rescue the peace process and draft a new constitution.

The Prime Minister today underlined his government's determination to find a peaceful solution to the deadlock, but refused to resign under pressure from the Maoists. The Prime Minister asked the Maoists to resolve all political issues through the Parliament.

Major political parties have asked the Maoists to disband their para-military groups and turn their organisation into a civilian party and return properties seized before they could consider supporting a government led by the Maoists.

Prime Minister Nepal asked the Maoists to dissolve its paramilitary organisations to forge a consensus and create an atmosphere of trust.

"So long as a political party keeps its private army and weapons, a trustworthy atmosphere cannot be created," he told a business delegation today. He said the government does not want to use force and has always avoided confrontation with the opposition party, he said.

The delegation led by Kush Kumar Joshi, the president of the Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industries (FNCCI), asked him to take initiative to end the current political impasse.

Nepal said he will invite the Maoist chairman Prachanda for dialogue today.

Meanwhile, the attack on the journalists have been widely flayed. Dharmendra Jha, president of Federation of Nepalese Journalists, condemned the attack on three journalists and asked the government to punish those involved in the incident.

Prabin Maharjan, a photojournalist of Associated News Agency, was hit with an iron rod while Navindra Shrestha, a journalist associated with Avenues TV was also beaten up.

"They hit me on back of my head with a lathi," Shrestha said.

Maoist chairman Prachanda had blamed journalists and intellectuals for portraying a negative image of his cadres and the indefinite anti-government strike.

These neat and clean intellectuals will now have to decide whether they want peace or war," an angry Prachanda had said while addressing thousands of his supporters yesterday.

"Nepali people have maintained a diary on who wrote what," he warned.

The Maoist supremo said the six-day strike "was a historic rehearsal," as the "real drama will start before May 28 if the government fails to address the demand for peace and constitution through a national government."

The Maoists on Friday called off their crippling strike that began on May 2 amid public fury and diplomatic pressure, but vowed to continue their protests to force the 22-party coalition government to step down.

UCPN-Maoist formed Nepal's first post-royal government in August 2008 after the former rebels emerged as the largest party in the April constituent assembly polls.

The government collapsed amid a dispute with President Ram Baran Yadav over the reinstatement of former army chief Rukmangad Katawal, who was dismissed by the Prachanda-led government last May.

The standoff has put new stresses on Nepal's reconciliation efforts amid fears that the stalled peace process may be derailed if the Maoists agitation is not ended.