KATHMANDU Nepal's former Maoist rebels have suspended a general strike that had choked daily life in the impoverished Himalayan nation for the past week, but are maintaining pressure on the prime minister to resign.
The Maoists were under enormous public pressure to call off the strike that hit ordinary Nepalis badly and halted the supply of essential goods, including fuel and medicines, for six days without breaking the deadlock with the government.
Experts say the Maoists, who control 40 percent of seats in the 601-seat parliament, had been trying to apply pressure tactics to return to power a year after quitting in a row with the president.
Transport, businesses and schools had come to a standstill as the Maoists demanded Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal quit to clear the way for a unity government headed by the Maoists. The government has so far said it will not yield.
"We have suspended the general strike because of the difficulties faced by the people," Maoist chief Prachanda told reporters late on Friday after a party meeting.
Prime Minister Nepal said the Maoists' move would help both sides pursue "dialogue, consensus and cooperation" to find a solution to the stalemate and help a fragile peace process that ended 10 years of civil war.
"Without the consensus and unity among political parties it is not possible to complete the peace process and prepare a new constitution," Nepal said in a statement
"For this, there is no alternative to coming to a consensus by setting aside unnecessary obstinacy."
A special constituent assembly has until May 28 to draft a constitution, the nascent republic's first, but analysts said the deadline was unlikely to be met.
Separately, a statement by the heads of European missions and the United States said the move by the Maoists would prove "a decisive step" toward a solution to political deadlock.
"They strongly urge all political parties to make renewed efforts to negotiate in good faith and make the necessary concessions to bring about a successful conclusion to the present crisis to the mutual benefit of all," it said.
But in a sign of possible further trouble, the Maoists said they would continue to block roads to the Singha Durbar office complex that houses the prime minister's office and other ministries to force the government out.
On Friday, about 25,000 people marched in the capital, Kathmandu, pressing the Maoists to end the strike and find a solution to the stalemate with other parties through dialogue.
The Maoists headed a government two years ago but quit last year after the president refused to sack the country's army chief. They have since been protesting against the government.
The standoff has delayed the integration and rehabilitation of more than 19,000 former Maoist fighters, a key part of the 2006 peace deal that ended a decade-long civil war.
In a sign that the political standoff was likely to continue, the United Nations is planning to extend its peace mission in Nepal for another four months.
(Editing by Matthias Williams and Sugita Katyal)