Nepal Maoists close roads to capital in row over army chief

Bus drivers wait for an end to a Maoist-organized sit-in and road blockade program along the highway at Nagdhunga, outside Kathmandu November 10, 2009. REUTERS/Shruti Shrestha

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal’s former Maoist rebels, waving hammer-and-sickle flags, blocked roads to the capital on Tuesday in protest at the reinstatement of the army chief, the first time they have taken such action since the end of the civil war three years ago.

The Maoist-led government fired the army chief, General Rookmangud Kawatal, in May saying he had refused to take orders. But the move was reversed by the president, prompting the Maoists to quit the government and plunging the country into crisis.

Maoist activists danced on the roads, or sat in front of vehicles, in a protest that may damage the tourism-dependent economy and has raised fears about Nepal’s fragile peace.

Nepal became a republic last year after abolishing the 239-year-old monarchy under a 2006 deal with the Maoists.

“The president should apologise for his decision or the prime minister can make a statement in the parliament saying the move by the president was wrong,” Maoist spokesman Dinanath Sharma said.

The Maoists, who waged a decade-long conflict against the monarchy from 1996, regularly blocked all roads to hill-ringed Kathmandu to stop supplies of essential goods during the war.

Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Editing by Alistair Scrutton