Efforts to form a new government in Nepal appeared to be stalled on Friday with the dominant Maoists refusing to take part in protest after they were blocked from sacking the country's army chief.
Nepal was plunged into crisis this week when Maoist leader Prachanda quit as premier because his attempt to fire the Himalayan nation's top general, a longtime rival, was vetoed by the president, a member of the opposition.
On Friday, around 500 Maoist supporters protested near the office of President Ram Baran Yadav, shouting "President resign!" and "Scrap the unconstitutional move."
The Maoists have vowed to boycott government, continue street protests and disrupt parliament sessions until the president apologises and forces the army chief to go. "We walked out of the government because of the president's unconstitutional action," said Maoist spokesman Dinanath Sharma.
"Talks with other parties on the formation of a new government are meaningless unless the president corrects his move."
The Maoists tried to sack General Rookmangud Katawal for refusing to integrate 19,000 former Maoist fighters currently confined to UN-supervised camps into the regular army, as stipulated by a 2006 peace deal that ended a decade of civil war.
Prachanda also argues the dispute is part of a wider campaign to undermine what was his democratically elected government, formed after the ex-rebels scored a surprise win in landmark polls last year.
The army, traditionally a bastion of support for Nepal's elite and the ousted monarchy, views guerrillas it is supposed to integrate as politically indoctrinated. It also accuses the Maoists of not fulfilling commitments to dismantle the paramilitary structure of their youth wing, the Young Communist League.
The Nepali Congress and Communist UML -- the second and third-largest parties in parliament -- are meanwhile holding talks with other fringe parties to form a new "national government." "We are trying to bring all the political parties including the Maoists under one roof to form a national government," Amrit Bohara, a senior UML official, told AFP.
"Discussions on reaching a consensus are continuing. We want the Maoists to support us even if they want to remain outside the government," he said.
The president has given the parties until Saturday to form a new government, but analysts say that is unlikely to happen.
"The parties won't be able to meet the deadline. Without the Maoists, it will be difficult to bring all the other small parties around one table," said Lok Raj Baral, political science professor at Nepal's Tribhuvan University.