A Maoist activist raises anti-government slogans in Kathmandu on Sunday. — Reuters
Campaigning in UK gets personal
Indirect peace talks between Israel, Palestine to resume
Israel is willing to renew negotiations with the Palestinians at any time and at any place and this time the talks will take place without pre-conditions, unlike in the previous 16 years.
— Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Now, NZ warns of ‘extreme’ terror risk
Kathmandu, May 2
The shutdown was launched by the former rebels a day after Prachanda, addressing a grand ‘May Day’ rally of the Unified CPN-Maoists, declared they would go for an indefinite strike if the 22-party coalition government headed by Premier Nepal was not dissolved to pave the way for a new dispensation led by his party.
Factories, markets, schools and colleges remained closed and vehicular movement halted as thousands of Maoist cadres demonstrated in different parts of the capital city, shouting anti-government slogans since early this morning.
In a televised address last evening, Prime Minister Nepal refused to resign and appealed for dialogue, saying that an “all-party consensus is the only alternative that will pave the way forward”.
“Shutting down the nation is not the way to find a solution to this impasse,” he said after two rounds of talks with Maoists, the single largest party in Parliament, on the issue of power-sharing failed.
Though the general strike was by and large peaceful in the capital, some sporadic incidents of violence occurred outside the Kathmandu valley.
Three Maoist cadres were injured and seven others arrested after a clash occurred between them and some locals in southern Nepal, police said. Minor clashes between Maoist cadres and locals in Chitawan district in southern Nepal were also reported.
The famous tourist city of Pokhara wore a deserted look as the general strike paralysed operations. Some people allegedly pelted stones at the Maoist demonstrators there, following which three private houses were vandalised.
In Birgunj, a southern Nepal town, an explosion was triggered allegedly by ‘Akhil Terai Mukti Morcha’, an armed Terai group, apparently in protest against the Maoists strike. However, no one was injured.
In Butawal, the Maoists allegedly vandalised two private offices and a shop for defying their strike, while a policeman was injured when the former rebels stoned a security vehicle in Kanchanpur district of far-west Nepal.
The final examinations for students of 12th standard were also disrupted in various parts of the country due to the general strike, officials said.
During their massive rally yesterday, tens of thousands of Maoist cadres dressed in red shouted slogans like ‘Topple the Puppet Government and Form Maoist-led National Government’, ‘Madhav Nepal Quit the Country’, ‘Protect National Independence’, and ‘Foil Conspiracy Hatched by Regressive Forces’ Though the Maoists have 35 per cent seats as the single largest party in the 601-member Parliament, they have failed to garner support of other political groups to form a government again under their leadership.
Major political parties including Nepali Congress, Nepal Communist Party-Unified Marxist Leninist and Nepal Sadbhavana Party have asked the Maoists to turn their organisation into a civilian party, return properties seized by the former rebels, dissolve their para-military group called the Young Communist League (YCL), before they could consider supporting a government led by the Maoists.
Two rounds of talks held among three major parties, including the Nepali Congress (NC) and Maoists, failed to produce any outcome as the former rebels stuck to their one-point demand of dissolving the ruling coalition and forming a new government under their leadership, according to NC General Secretary Bimalendra Nidhi.
The strike today also paralysed normal life in Terai area bordering India and hilly districts as well, besides the capital city. The government has deployed a large number of police and Armed Police Force personnel, stepping up security across the country.
Maoists have said they would allow movement of water tankers, vehicles containing dairy products, ambulances and press cars during their strike. They would also allow markets to open between 6 pm and 8 pm to allow people to purchase essential goods.
The Maoists’ strike, which comes despite Prime Minister Nepal’s last minute call for them to withdraw it and assurance that all their demands will be addressed through peaceful dialogue, has threatened to jeopardise the four-year-old peace process in Nepal.
The crisis may deepen further when Nepal’s Constituent Assembly’s term expires on May 28 with a new Constitution unlikely to be prepared before that deadline. Political parties are also not expected to reach a consensus on its extension. — PTI
Campaigning in UK gets personal
London, May 2
Although no new poll has indicated the centre-right Conservatives winning an outright majority, ruling Labour’s 13 years in power appears set to end.
The party, which swept to power in an overwhelming victory under Tony Blair in 1997, faces coming a humiliating third place on May 6 in the popular vote behind the much smaller Liberal Democrats.
Conservative leader David Cameron called Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown a “shrunken figure”, while Brown likened Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg to a “TV gameshow” presenter.
An Angus Reid opinion poll for the Sunday Express newspaper put Conservative Party support at 35 per cent, 12 points ahead of third-placed centre-left Labour. Although the pollster has tended to score Labour lower, the survey adds to four polls on Saturday indicating growing Conservative backing.
“I think we’ve got some momentum now...” Conservative leader David Cameron said in a BBC interview on Sunday. No polls have the Conservatives with enough to win outright, indicating a coalition government as the most likely outcome, a rarity in Britain with its first-past-the-post electoral system, and a situation not seen since 1974.
The financial markets have been nervous about such a coalition administration or a minority government, fearing an uncertain period of horse-trading at a time of a record budget deficit of more than 11 percent of GDP.
In an interview in the Observer newspaper, Brown admitted Labour was the “underdog”, and on Sunday was on a 10-stop tour around London. “I’m fighting for my life, but i’m not fighting for myself, i’m fighting for the British people,” he said at a south London community centre.
The third-largest party, the centrist Liberal Democrats, or Lib Dems, have gained in popularity after leader Nick Clegg gave polished performances in a series of US-style television debates, and his support could be key in a coalition government.
But there was little sign of any overtures by political leaders to their rivals, as all three parties insisted they were focusing on winning a clear majority. “We’re talking about the future of our country. We’re not talking about who’s going to be the next presenter of a TV gameshow,” Labour leader Prime Minister Gordon Brown said of telegenic Clegg in an interview in the Observer.
Cameron in turn launched an attack on Brown. “And what a shrunken figure Gordon Brown now cuts. Once hailed as an economic colossus and political genius, he resorts to desperate smears and hysterical scares,” Cameron said in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper.
Clegg told the Independent on Sunday that a majority Conservative government would be run by a “clique” of people with “vested interests”.
Still unclear is where, when and how deeply each party intends to slash public spending, with deep cuts expected whoever wins. Wary of scaring voters, politicians have so far only outlined a fraction of the cuts needed to rein in a budget deficit, which could threaten Britain’s AAA credit rating. “It is incredibly challenging, there is no doubt about it ... I do accept that (plans announced) is still not enough to fill this enormous black hole left by Gordon Brown and Labour,” Cameron told the BBC on Sunday. — Reuters
BBC to beam results on to Big Ben
For the first time, the results of the historic May 6 general election in Britain are to be projected on to Big Ben. The number of seats won by the Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, the three largest parties, will be updated over the course of the night as part of an initiative between the BBC and the British Parliament.
The images, illustrating the state of the parties, will be beamed from the moment the first result is declared until the next morning, the BBC said.
The idea behind projecting the results is to provide a clear and simple source of information and an arresting image.
The projections, which will not carry BBC branding, will be beamed on to the southern face of Big Ben. — PTI
Jerusalem, May 2
“Israel is willing to renew negotiations with the Palestinians at any time and at any place,” hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
“This time the talks will take place without pre-conditions, unlike in the previous 16 years,” he added welcoming the Arab League’s decision to let the “proximity” talks between the two sides start.
Israel’s deputy Foreign Minister expressed hopes that the talks could start in the coming days or at the latest coming week.
“It is a positive development. The Arabs also want to break the deadlock,” Ayalon told Israel Radio referring to Arab League’s decision.
“There may be a ceremony, this is still not clear, but more important is the process, which will deal with the basic issues,” he added.
Peace talks between the two sides came to a standstill after Israel launched a major offensive in Gaza in December 2008 just before US President Barack Obama assumed office and remained stalled despite mounting pressure from Washington as Netanyahu government refused to meet the key Palestinian demand of complete halt in constructions in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The Israeli premier announced a temporary freeze on building activities in the West Bank in November but has resisted any such move in east Jerusalem.
The Palestinians, with Arab League backing, reluctantly agreed to indirect US-mediated talks for a period of four months in March but it was nipped in the bud by an Israeli announcement to build 1,600 homes in East Jerusalem during a visit by US Vice-President Joe Biden, a move dubbed by Washington as an “insult” that led to a severe crisis between the two close allies, described by many as the worst in 35 years between the strategic partners.
The Cairo-based League’s decision to endorse the indirect talks was taken by its committee of foreign ministers after receiving “guarantees” from Obama in a letter to Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmud Abbas.
“Despite the lack of conviction of the Israeli side in achieving peace, the committee affirms what was agreed on the 2nd of March 2010 in regards to the time period for the indirect negotiations,” an Arab League statement said.
A close aide to Abbas, PA secretary general Tayeb Abdel Rahim, today said that Obama assured the PA that his administration is committed to a two-state solution and that a future Palestinian state will be independent and have territorial continuity.
Rahim added that the US President relayed his message in a letter delivered by Mideast envoy George Mitchell while he visited the region last week in a bid to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. An Israeli official said Mitchell was expected back in the region on Monday.
Abbas’ key aide also said that the US vowed to assign blame publicly to any party that takes provocative actions or jeopardises prospects for peace.
Obama has reportedly promised the PA President a prolonged Israeli settlement freeze in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Army Radio reported earlier today quoting London-based Arab-language newspaper Al-Hayat.
Asked by Israel Radio if Israel was considering a construction freeze in east Jerusalem, Ayalon however responded diplomatically, “On the ground, we will not prevent life from continuing because a question of principle, even of morals, is involved.” Top Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erakat, told a Cairo news conference yesterday that a final decision on indirect talks with Israel would be taken by the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s executive committee.
Erakat warned, however, that any Israeli construction in disputed east Jerusalem would bring an immediate halt to the process. “If they build one unit out of the 1,600, we will not go to the talks,” he said. — PTI
Now, NZ warns of ‘extreme’ terror risk
Wellington, May 2 The New Zealand government said there was a significant terrorist threat in India and “heightened concerns that terrorists are planning attacks in New Delhi.” “New Zealanders are strongly advised to avoid market areas of New Delhi in coming days and weeks,” the advisory added. The warning also said there was an “extreme risk to your security in Jammu, Kashmir, Tripura, Manipur, Assam, Nagaland and along the India-Pakistan international border,” advising against travel in those areas. New Zealanders living or travelling in India should have comprehensive medical and travel insurance policies that included provision for medical evacuation by air, the warning said. Security concerns about the forthcoming Commonwealth Games were stoked in April when two low-intensity bombs went off at a cricket stadium in the southern city of Bangalore ahead of an Indian Premier League match. New Zealand cricket representative Ross Taylor was in the ground at the time. In February, a bomb exploded in a packed restaurant popular with travellers in the western Indian city of Pune, killing 16 people, including five foreigners.
Wellington, May 2
The New Zealand government said there was a significant terrorist threat in India and “heightened concerns that terrorists are planning attacks in New Delhi.”
“New Zealanders are strongly advised to avoid market areas of New Delhi in coming days and weeks,” the advisory added.
The warning also said there was an “extreme risk to your security in Jammu, Kashmir, Tripura, Manipur, Assam, Nagaland and along the India-Pakistan international border,” advising against travel in those areas.
New Zealanders living or travelling in India should have comprehensive medical and travel insurance policies that included provision for medical evacuation by air, the warning said.
Security concerns about the forthcoming Commonwealth Games were stoked in April when two low-intensity bombs went off at a cricket stadium in the southern city of Bangalore ahead of an Indian Premier League match.
New Zealand cricket representative Ross Taylor was in the ground at the time. In February, a bomb exploded in a packed restaurant popular with travellers in the western Indian city of Pune, killing 16 people, including five foreigners. — AFP
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