Nepal's President Ram Baran Yadav has directed Army Chief Gen Rukmangad Katawal, sacked by Prime Minister Prachanda, to continue in office in a face off between the two leaders that threatens to escalate the political crisis and derail the peace process.Hours after Prachanda sacked Gen Katawal on Sunday accusing him of defying the government's orders by reinstating eight Generals retired by the Maoist administration, the President told the Army Chief to remain in the post.
"Being the head of the state and the supreme commander of the Nepal Army I order you to continue with your duty," Yadav said in a letter sent to Gen Katawal late last night. Copies of the letter were sent to the Prime Minister's Office and six regional headquarters of the Army.
"The dismissal of the Army Chief and the new appointment do not meet the constitutional requirements and due process," the President said.
As Yadav refused to endorse the decision taken by the Maoist cabinet yesterday, Prachanda convened an urgent cabinet meeting today to discuss the current political situation. He is also scheduled to address the nation.
The President's move comes after he asked Prachanda, a former Maoist rebel leader, to follow constitutional provisions and seek a political consensus over firing Gen Katawal.
The letter asking Gen Katawal to remain in office also came after 18 political parties urged the President to protect the "constitution and block action against the Army Chief."
Soon after the Government announced its decision to fire the Army Chief, CPN (UML) quit the government in protest against the decision.
The CPN (UML) has 108 members in the 601-member Constituent Assembly and its action has raised doubts over the survival of the multi-party coalition.
As the crisis deepened, the ruling Maoists today accused the President of "violating" constitutional norms and putting the peace process in "peril".
"The executive power to sack and appoint an acting Army Chief lies with the Government and not with the President. We will stick to our decision. We don't have any plans to quit the government," AFP quoted Maoist spokesman and Minister for Information and Communications Krishna Bahadur Mahara as saying.
Mahara said the Army Chief's sacking was "necessary" to bring the Army under civilian control.
The Maoists' move to fire the Army Chief came a fortnight after they served an ultimatum to Gen Katawal, seeking his clarification on defiance to recruit former Maoist rebels in the military.
It also questioned his "hastiness" in reinstating eight generals retired by the government and his decision not to participate in the National Games.