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Nepal in crisis
Maoists sack army chief
Prez asks him to continue
Bishnu Budhathoki writes from Kathmandu

Ousted army chief General Rookmangud Katawal.
Ousted army chief General Rookmangud Katawal. — AFP photo

A fortnight-long stalemate in Nepal came to an end on Sunday evening with the sacking of Army chief Gen Rookmangud Katawal. However, he refused to receive the letter. It was not clear if Lt Gen Kul Bahadur, appointed in his place by the Maoist-led government, has take over the charge.

In a late evening development, the Nepal President, Dr Ram Baran Yadav, asked the Katawal to continue his service until further decision after receiving request from the 18 political parties, including the CPN-UML and the Nepali Congress, to safeguard the constitutional spirit. The President also wrote a letter to the Prime Minister asking him not to relieve Gen Katawal. But the PM is learned to have refused to receive the letter.

Immediately after the government decision to sack the army chief, the cadres from the sister organisations of both ruling Maoists and the opposition Nepali Congress took to the streets. The cadres of Maoists’ sister organisations took out rallies across the country applauding the government decision whereas the students affiliated to the Nepali Congress demonstrated in Kathmandu and scuffled with the Maoists cadres in some places while protesting against the government decision dubbing it as a premeditated move to establish totalitarianism.

The government has beefed up the security situation to avoid untoward incidents in Kathmandu.

Following the decision, Nepal’s political parties have been sharply divided putting the Maoist-led government in trouble and hampering the constitution drafting process that could invite new political conflict before resolving the decade-long Maoist insurgency.

However, ministers from three coalition partners - the CPN-UML, Sadbhavana Party (SP) and CPN (Unified) - boycotted the emergency cabinet meeting protesting against Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s proposal to sack Katawal despite having political consensus. Similarly, ministers from the third largest party, Madhesi People’s Rights Forum, lodged a note of dissent over the decision.

Government spokesperson and Maoist secretariat member Krishna Bahadur Mahara said after the meeting: “The government sacked Nepal army chief Gen Rookmangud Katawal and appointed second-in-command Kul Bahadur Khadka as acting chief of the army.”

Mahara claimed that all ruling political parties, except the UML, supported the government decision.

Katawal, who was invited at the PM’s official residence in Baluwatar during the cabinet meeting, refused to accept the retirement letter saying that he would accept it if it comes through proper channel. Later, he went to the army headquarters and consulted with the senior army officials.

Meanwhile, an emergency meeting of the second largest coalition partner, the UML, and the Sadbhavana Party decided to pull out of the five-party coalition and withdraw its support to the Maoist-led government with effect from today, party general-secretary Ishwar Pokharel said. The decision follows UML’s disagreement with Maoists over the latter’s unilateral decision to sack army chief Katawal.

The UML has also urged the Maoists to pave the way to form an all-party national government in order to take the ongoing peace process to a logical end by drafting the new constitution within stipulated timeframe.

However, the third largest ruling constituent, Madhesi People’s Rights Forum that has 51 members in Parliament, is yet to take a decision on whether to withdraw its support to the Maoists-led coalition or not.

Meanwhile, President Dr Ram Baran Yadav, who is the supreme commander-in-chief of army and patron of the interim constitution, has urged the Prime Minister not to enforce the decision without reaching a political consensus.

Earlier, an all-party meeting called by the main opposition party, the Nepali Congress, where at least 17 political parties were present, urged the President to take immediate and necessary initiative to safeguard the interim constitution.

On April 19, the government had asked the army chief to furnish clarification on three issues within 24 hours.

CPN quits govt

Kathmandu: Amid deepening political crisis over the sacking of the army chief by the Prime Minister today, the position of the Maoists-led coalition appeared shaky as a key partner withdrew support to the eight-month government.

Prachanda, who is headed for a major confrontation with the Army, faced a major setback when the second largest coalition partner CPN (UML) with 108 members in Parliament, said it was quitting the government because the Prime Minister had unilaterally sacked the army chief.

“We decided to withdraw our support to protest the prime minister's unilateral decision,” CPN-UML general secretary Ishwar Pokhrel said.

However, the Terai-based Madhesi People’s Rights Forum (MPRF) with the strength of 51 lawmakers, are yet to announce its position on the issue. However, the Madhesi People’s party has joined 17 other parties, including main opposition Nepali Congress and CPN-UML to oppose the decision to sack the top commander.

The CPN-Maoist with 229 seats in Parliament needs the crucial support from MPRF and other small parties to obtain a majority in the 601 member Constituent Assembly tasked to frame a new constitution for the country after it abolished its unpopular 240-year-old monarchy last year. (With inputs from PTI)

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