Racing against time, Nepal's major political parties on Thursday engaged in hectic consultations to form a new government, with Maoist supremo Prachanda meeting ex-premier G P Koirala, whose Congress said it was ready to support a coalition led by the CPN-UML.
"During our discussions we mainly focused on forging consensus and cooperation among the political parties," Prachanda told reporters after the meeting.
They discussed the formation of a new government, the stalled peace process and the decision of President Ram Baran Yadav to retain army chief Gen Rukmangad Katawal despite the Maoist-led cabinet's decision to remove him.
The Maoist leader, who had resigned as premier on Monday following a months-long bitter row with Katawal, yesterday also met his former ally and CPN-UML leader Jhalanath Khanal, who is widely tipped to be the next prime minister.
The NC and CPN-UML are holding key meetings to discuss the formation of a government, for which a Saturday deadline has been set up by the President. Both the parties need support from the Terai-based Madhesi parties to stitch a majority in the 601-member Constituent Assembly.
Top NC leader K P Sitaula indicated that his party's "first preference" is to form a consensus government. In case that was not acceptable to the other parties, it "wants the UML to lead and we will support it".
Nepali Congress has already extended its support to CPN-UML to form a new coalition government. "We have already decided to support UML-led government and it is up to the UML to decide how it is going to form the new government," said NC acting president Sushil Koirala.
Meanwhile, the Maoists held rallies in Kathmandu Valley today against the President's move to retain the army chief. Riot policemen beat back some 2,500 protesters from the women's wing of the Maoist party who marched towards the President's residence in the heart of the city shouting slogans against Yadav and the army chief.
Maoist cadres affiliated to ethnic group Newa Mukti Morcha also rallied in the capital, carrying banners demanding resignation of the President and shouting slogans against the Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and Gen Katawal.
The Maoists have also disrupted the Parliament, seeking the sacking of the army chief. The President's action to reinstate Katawal prompted Prachanda to resign, sparking a political crisis in the country which has been struggling to establish a democracy after the abolition of the unpopular 240-year old monarchy last year.