Vol. 5 Num 1022 Tue. April 17, 2007  

41Nepali Maoists ask govt to scrap monarchy

Nepal's Maoists demanded yesterday that the country immediately scrap the monarchy and declare itself a republic amid probable delays in an election over the issue.

"We have to find a new political basis in order to move forward. That basis is declaring the country a republic immediately," Maoist leader Prachanda told reporters.

The Himalayan kingdom is scheduled in June to elect a body that will rewrite the constitution and decide whether sidelined King Gyanendra and the monarchy as a whole should stay or go.

But last week Nepal's election commissioner, Bhojraj Pokharel, said the peace process that has brought the Maoists into government after 10 years of insurgency was moving so slowly that the elections would have to be postponed.

The eight-party alliance government, which contains five Maoists ministers, has not formally announced the delay in the polls.

But Prachanda -- whose nom de guerre means "the fierce one" -- argued that any delay would give room for King Gyanendra and his supporters to destabilise the country and undermine the peace process.

The Maoists accuse the king, who has already been striped of most of his powers, of provoking ethnic violence in a bid to hang on to his throne.

"The longer the delay the more it will space to feudalistic and reactionary forces for creating a negative environment. Such forces have been conspiring to sabotage and derail the peace process," Prachanda told a news conference.

"If this republic is not declared immediately, we have some other options -- which include a referendum and appealing to the population to protest against the feudal set up," he said.

The Maoists signed a peace deal in November 2006 after fighting for 10 years to impose a communist republic on the Hindu-majority country in a war that left at least 13,000 people dead.

The former rebels, who still feature on Washington's list of foreign "terrorist" organisations, have registered their weapons and fighters with the United Nations as part of the accord.

Meanwhile, Nepal's Maoists, who were recently given ministerial roles in a new parliament, need to end violence and intimidation against gay men and women, a rights group said yesterday.

"As Nepal tries to recover from a decade of conflict, its leaders should make it clear that no one's rights are disposable," Jessica Stern, a researcher with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

The New York-based rights group issued the statement after it had received reports that Maoists abducted, tortured and tried to forcibly recruit a woman and a teenage girl in March they accused of having a lesbian relationship.

The Maoists have also faced charges of forcibly recruiting children during a decade-long people's war.

"Abusing women for their sexuality and forcibly recruiting children are simply unacceptable in a new Nepal," said Stern.

After King Gyanendra was forced to end a 14-month period of direct rule last April, the former rebels signed a peace deal with the government late last year to end a civil war that had killed at least 13,000 people.