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Nepal crisis as army chief fired

NEPAL'S prime minister fired the army chief yesterday after accusing him of defying government orders, prompting a key party to quit the coalition government and plunging the Himalayan country into a political crisis that could endanger its peace process.

Tens of thousands of people poured into the streets of the capital, Kathmandu, to demonstrate both for and against the decision by Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal.

Tensions have risen for months as Dahal's ruling Maoists have struggled with the army over its refusal to integrate former rebel units into its ranks as required by a UN-brokered peace agreement. The dismissal of army chief Rookmangud Katawal is likely to further inflame those tensions.

The second-largest party in the coalition, the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist), said it was quitting the government because Dahal had not obtained the coalition partners' approval before sacking Katawal.

"We decided to withdraw our support to protest the prime minister's unilateral decision," party general secretary Ishwar Pokhrel said. The Communist Party has traditionally been part of the political mainstream, while the Maoists until 2006 were a rebel group fighting government troops.

Other parties in the coalition were still deciding whether to remain in the government. Most, however, walked out of the Cabinet meeting when Dahal announced the dismissal.

The main opposition party, Nepali Congress, condemned the sacking and organized street protests.

Police were put on high alert as flag-waving, tire-burning demonstrators took to the streets of the capital.

Thousands of Maoist supporters thronged other parts of Katmandu, waving their signature red flags.

Home Ministry spokesman Navin Ghimire said the police were put on high alert to prevent any trouble.

Dahal has accused Katawal of ignoring government orders by refusing to stop recruiting soldiers and allowing eight army generals whose tenures were not extended by the government to continue working.

Information Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara said the army cheif failed to give a satisfactory explanation on why the government orders were ignored.


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