Nepal holds 'secret' meeting with Prachanda to end standoff

Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal and UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Prachanda held a "secret" meeting today afternoon in a bid to forge an agreement to extend the Constituent Assembly (CA) term which expires on May 28.

The meeting at CPN-UML leader Krishna Lal Maharjan’s residence in the capital's Lalitpur area lasted for about an hour and centred on forging consensus at the high-level meeting of the major three parties scheduled for today, Bishnu Rijal, the Prime Minister’s press advisor, was quoted as saying by the Kantipur online.

Meanwhile, the meeting of the Assembly to vote on the eighth constitution amendment bill to pave the way for extension of the term of the House was put off till Friday.
The parliament's secretariat said it will now meet on Friday. The House sittings on Monday and Tuesday had also been cancelled.

Leaders of the three major political parties -- the main Opposition CPN-Maoist, the Nepali Congress and the prime minister's Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) -- met today but failed to reach an agreement to end the standoff.

Nepal's ruling coalition last week introduced a bill in the 601-Assembly to extend the term of the House for one year so that it can finish the task of framing a new constitution.
CPN-Maoist party, with nearly 35 percent of the parliamentary seats, have refused to cooperate in extending the Assembly till the Prime Minister steps down.

Without the Maoists support, the ruling coalition would be unable to garner the two-thirds parliamentary vote required to get the proposal approved by the House.

A high-level meeting of the three parties is expected to be held on Wednesday.

The meeting of the top leaders of UCPN-Maoist, Nepali Congress and CPN-UML in the presence of the Prime Minister has been postponed until 5:00 pm for necessary homework, Maoist leader Narayan Kaji Shrestha said.

"PM Nepal wants to hold separate meetings with the parties," he was quoted as saying by Himalayan Times online.

Concerned over a possible constitutional crisis in Nepal, the UN has appealed to the Maoists chief to take immediate steps to extend the tenure of the Assembly, which expires on Friday.

Karin Landgren, chief of the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), met Prachanda yesterday and stressed the need for extending the assembly's tenure to avert a constitutional crisis in the country.

She focused on the core issues of the peace process, including drafting of the new Constitution and integration and rehabilitation of Maoist army personnel.
Meanwhile, a European Union delegation met President Ram Baran Yadav today and underlined the need for the constitution-drafting and the completion of the peace process.

Yadav expressed the hope that political parties will complete the drafting of the constitution through consensus as well as implement the Comprehensive Peace Accord.
The US has asked the political parties to resolve their differences for a better future of the country which seems to plunge into a deep political crisis.

"We will continue to push to resolve existing differences and come together to shape a more constructive future," P J Crowley, the US State Department spokesman, told reporters at his daily news conference in Washington.

The failure of the government and opposition leaders to resolve disagreements could leave the country without a functioning legislature by the weekend.

The expiry of the House will lead to the end of the mandate of the interim constitution, creating a political chaos and constitutional crisis, according to experts.

The two-year term of the Assembly, which was elected in 2008 to draft a new constitution in tune with the landmark 2006 peace process after a decade-long civil war, ends of May 28.

Thousands of Maoist supporters took to the streets and laid siege to the capital earlier this month as part of its nationwide strike aimed to topple the 22-party government after the Prime Minister rejected their supremo Prachanda's demand to quit.

Even after calling off their indefinite anti-government general strike on May 7, the Maoists have demanded that Prime Minister Nepal steps down.

Political tensions have been high in Nepal since a government led by the Maoists resigned last year amid a dispute with the country's President over the reinstatement of former army chief Rukmangad Katawal, who was dismissed by the Prachanda-led government last May.

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