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Maoists call off road blockade

Maoist decision to lift blockade followed Nepal's main political parties calling a four-day nationwide strike next month.

india Updated: Apr 17, 2006 20:30 IST

Nepal's Maoist rebels on Sunday called off a road blockade that had crippled life across the poor Himalayan nation for six days and left roads deserted, saying they were heeding appeals by political parties.

The blockade called by the anti-monarchy rebels had choked supplies, raised prices of essential goods, caused fuel shortages and left thousands stranded across the nation, wedged between Asian giants India and China.

Maoist chief Prachanda, who uses only one name, and his deputy, Baburam Bhattarai, also urged Nepal's main political parties, with whom the rebels have a loose alliance against the king, to forge a common front.

"It is the historical need to deal a decisive blow to the autocratic royal regime by uniting all those who are against it," they said in a joint statement.

The Maoist decision to lift the blockade came hours after Nepal's main political parties called a four-day nationwide general strike next month, saying they would step up protests to force King Gyanendra to give up absolute power.

The parties have refused to include the rebels in their street protests unless the Maoists give up violence.

The strike would begin on April 6, they said, urging people to support and participate in an anti-king rally in Kathmandu on April 8, the day multi-party democracy was established in Nepal 16 years ago.

Prachanda and Bhattarai backed the strike call by the parties and asked people to take an active part in the protests.

They also called off a nationwide strike they had announced from April 3 which had triggered fears that the royalist government would crack down on all protests then and hurt plans made by political parties.

"We know the general strike will cause hardship to the people. But we urge them to bear with us and face four days of difficulties for the greater cause of democracy," Subash Nemwang, a top leader of the Communist Party of Nepal-UML, the second biggest party, told reporters after an earlier meeting.

The royalist government has criticised the alliance but the parties stood firm and said the pact was aimed at getting the Maoists to return to the mainstream.

"It (the accord) is the real basis for the resolution of the current conflict," they said in a statement.

Nepal has faced political turmoil since the king took power last year, saying his move was necessary to quell the 10-year Maoist revolt which has killed more than 13,000 people.

Analysts said the Maoists, who have stepped up violence after ending a four-month unilateral truce in January, seemed to be looking for a safe landing in the political mainstream.

"By calling off the blockade and strikes the Maoists actually want the legitimacy the political parties can give their struggle," said Kunda Dixit, editor of the Nepali Times weekly. "They realise that violence is a dead end."

First Published: Mar 19, 2006 19:40 IST