As Nepal's multi-party government on Monday began a key meeting with Maoists to fix a date for implementing the new constitution, controversy about the statute grew with the country's top judges fearing loss of independence in the days to come.
Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and chiefs of the remaining six parties in the ruling coalition began fresh talks with Maoist chief Prachanda to determine a date for promulgating the new constitution that will oust King Gyanendra as head of state, for the first time in the history of the kingdom.
The new Constitution generated fresh controversy this week after judges of the Supreme Court demanded changes in it, fearing the loss of judicial independence.
The new statute makes the prime minister the authority to appoint the chief justice. The apex court has to submit its annual report to him.
However, the judges say the appointment should be made by the constitutional council, a body comprising the prime minister and other officials, and that the Supreme Court should make its annual report public.
The leaders, meeting at the ailing premier's official residence Monday morning are also expected to discuss a date for holding a constituent assembly election in June when the fate of Nepal's 238-year monarchy will be decided.
With UN officials arriving in Nepal to monitor the arms and armies of the government as well as guerrillas and the inspection scheduled to start Monday, the security situation is also likely to be discussed.
In the recent weeks, the government has been alarmed at the abductions, killings and road blockades enforced in the southern Terai plains by a Maoist renegade group, the Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha.
Asked by the government to stop violence and open dialogue, the faction has set down several conditions.
The ruling coalition is expected to discuss them with the Maoists who are now at loggerheads with the faction.
The meeting was called at short notice after Koirala came under intense pressure from the rebels, his own allies and the public to promulgate the new statute by January 14.
Earlier, Prachanda had warned that his party would launch a peaceful but strong anti-government protest if the January deadline was missed, a call taken up by the second largest party in the government, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, and eminent citizens, some of whom started a fast unto death in the capital.