Tens of thousands rally against Nepal's government
Tens of thousands of former communist rebels and their supporters rallied in the capital Saturday demanding Nepal's coalition government be disbanded and replaced by a Maoist-led government.
The mass rally and a general strike planned by the protesters for Sunday if their demands aren't met have raised concern of renewed violence in Nepal, where the Maoists ended their decade-old insurgency and joined a peace process in 2006.
Some 15,000 police in riot gear were guarding the streets of Katmandu, traffic was halted and shops and markets were closed for demonstrations that leaders of the Maoist party said would be peaceful.
The protesters chanted slogans against the government and waved their party's red flags. Top Maoist leaders were scheduled to address rally later on Saturday.
No violence or clashes between police and protesters were reported, Katmandu police chief Ramesh Kharel said. He said the crowd was estimated at more than 125,000.
Baburam Bhattarai, deputy leader of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), said they expect 500,000 supporters to rally peacefully for the prime minister's resignation.
"Our demonstrations will be peaceful, and we will do all we can to make sure there is no trouble," Bhattarai said. "But if there are any cases of violence it is the government that will be responsible."
Bhattarai said Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal should resign by the end of Saturday and disband the present government. "If there is no agreement reached by Saturday, then we will be forced to impose an indefinite general strike from Sunday," he said.
Since theie bloody insurgency ended, the Maoists have confined their fighters in U.N.-monitored camps and contested general elections in 2008. They briefly led a coalition government but their leader resigned as the prime minister following differences with the president over the proposed firing of the army chief. Karin Landgren, chief of U.N.'s peace mission in Nepal, said she met Maoists leaders to appeal for peaceful resolution and has been assured the demonstrations would be peaceful.
"I am deeply concerned that despite these peaceful intentions, potential spoilers of the peace process could provoke a clash," Landgren said Friday.
A statement from the U.S. Embassy in Katmandu appealed for the parties to exercise restraint, work toward consensus and find a way through the impasse.
"Nepal has come a long way since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2006 and these gains should not be lost," it said.