KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal’s Maoist former rebels quit the interim government on Tuesday and vowed to disrupt preparations for historic elections in November unless the Himalayan nation’s monarchy was abolished immediately.
The move is a major setback to last year’s peace deal in which the rebels ended a decade-old insurgency and agreed on elections for a special assembly to decide the fate of the monarchy.
“We will not accept the code of conduct announced by the election commission and we will disrupt all ongoing election plans,” Maoist deputy leader Baburam Bhattarai told a rally in Kathmandu.
Bhattarai, speaking hours after the Maoists quit the government after failed talks with Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and major political parties, also warned the former rebels could take up arms again if their demands were ignored.
“We will launch peaceful protests, but we have the right to counter those who try to suppress our peaceful program,” he told thousands of cheering supporters beneath a large poster of Maoist leader Prachanda.
The Maoists have been insisting the nation must be declared a republic ahead of the November 22 vote, saying King Gyanendra and his supporters were trying to sabotage the election.
While Bhattarai stopped short of announcing a boycott of the polls, some analysts said they were now likely to be delayed.
“There is a major risk that the election may not be held on time,” said Yubaraj Ghimire, editor of Nepali news magazine Samay. “This has clearly injected uncertainty about the election taking place in November.”
The Maoists said they would launch protests in all of Nepal’s 4,000 villages and in front of district administration offices in its towns to press their demands.
They also called for a three-day general strike from October 4, when the candidates for the election are supposed to file their nomination papers.
Although this did not mean the former rebels would take up arms immediately, they seemed to be moving in that direction, said Nepali defense analyst Indrajit Rai.
“Day by day they will be taking to the streets and tension with the government will increase,” he said. “They will begin defying the agreement which will lead to suspicion and confusion.”
Analysts said the Maoists, who entered mainstream politics only last year, were nervous about how well they would do in the polls, and were trying to distance themselves from the government.
“The real story is that the Maoist leadership has been under considerable pressure from its cadre about not being able to do much despite having five ministries,” said Kunda Dixit, editor of the influential weekly Nepali Times.
“The Maoists’ own evaluation is that they will not fare well in the polls, so to maximize their chances they want to be seen as an opposition party and a genuine force for change.”
The new government has already stripped the monarch of almost all his powers, including his control over the army.
The Maoist conflict that began in 1996 killed around 13,000 people and hit the aid- and tourism-dependent economy of Nepal, one of the world’s poorest nations.
Giant neighbor India, which was a key player in ending King Gyanendra’s absolute rule last year, said it hoped previous understandings would be implemented and differences would be resolved democratically.
The Indian home ministry said states which share a porous border with the Himalayan neighbor had been asked to “remain vigilant and alert” following the political developments.
“The common goal must remain to enable the people of Nepal to choose their own future and the manner of their governance,” Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in a statement.