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Nepal Maoists call off airport blockade after world concern

Posted by Ramesh Khati on November 4, 2009

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, Nov 3 (IANS): Nepal’s former Maoist guerrillas, who have kept up a siege on parliament since May and Monday launched fresh street protests against the coalition government, finally capitulated to growing pressure from the international community and called off their proposed blockade of the airport next week.

The European Union, the US and Russia Tuesday sent their envoys to meet Maoist chairman and former prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, to express serious concern about the planned demonstrations, the “risk of escalating tension” and the proposed blockade of Nepal’s sole international airport on Nov 10.

The envoys underlined the “significant damage” the proposed closure of airport and obstruction of Nepal’s tourist infrastructure would do to Nepal’s reputation, particularly during the peak tourist season, and the ensuing damage to the country’s economy.

Heeding to the mounting world concern, the former guerrillas Tuesday said the airport blockade has been called off.

Prachanda also condemned a move by party cadres Monday to set up a parallel government in Dhankuta district, saying it was done against the party policy.

Nepal’s government has already condemned the move with government spokesman, Information and Communications Minister Shankar Pokhrel, saying it violated the peace pact the Maoists had signed with the parties three years ago to end their civil war and return to mainstream politics.

The Western diplomats also asked Prachanda to reconsider the protest programme and instead use the Constituent Assembly, parliament and other peace process mechanisms to oppose the government.

They have also asked the ex-rebels to respect the safety and right to freedom of movement of the people of Nepal, foreign citizens, and of the representatives of diplomatic missions and international organisations.

The mounting fears come after Maoists cadres went on the rampage in Dhankuta, torching nine vehicles and triggering a retaliatory attack by the ruling party, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML).

However, it was not certain immediately if the former rebels would go ahead with their plan to blockade Kathmandu valley Nov 10.

While there was no immediate reaction from Nepal’s immediate neighbour China, India is expected to make its view clear to the chief of Nepal’s ruling party, who Tuesday began a five-day visit to New Delhi.

Jhalanath Khanal, whose Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist is leading the current 22-party government in Nepal, will be holding talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, president of India’s ruling Congress party. India has expressed support for the present government of Nepal despite the Maoist demand for its dissolution.

Khanal will also hold consultations with India’s communist leaders, who are regarded as being close to the Nepal Maoists, like Sitaram Yechury of the Communist Party of India-Marxist. The communist leader will consult India’s opposition Bharatiya Janata Party leaders as well.

Khanal was invited by the Indian government, his party said. Nepal’s communist-headed government is grappling with fresh Maoist protests that started Sunday.

The Maoists are demanding an apology from President Ram Baran Yadav, who they say acted unconstitutionally when he reinstated the chief of the army, Gen Rookmangud Katawal, whom they (Maoists) had sacked.

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