- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 25, 2008

KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Nepal’s prime minister yesterday asked the country’s former communist rebels to form a new coalition government after they won the largest number of seats for a constitution-drafting assembly.

Peace Minister Ram Chandra Poudel said the former rebels, known as Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists), were asked by Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala at a meeting to “go ahead and make the new government.”

“The prime minister asked the Maoists to form the new government and take necessary initiatives to bring other parties in the coalition government,” Mr. Poudel said.

It has not been decided when Mr. Koirala would step down and the Maoist-led government would take over, but Mr. Poudel said top leaders would meet again today to decide further details.

Yesterday’s announcement paves the way for the formation of the new government two years after the ex-rebels gave up their decade-old insurgency that killed more than 13,000 people.

Since then, they have joined mainstream politics, confined their combatants in U.N. monitored camps and locked up their weapons. They received the most seats in April 10 elections for a Constituent Assembly that will rewrite the constitution, decide Nepal’s future political system and govern the nation.

The assembly is scheduled to meet Wednesday for the first time and is expected to begin its work by abolishing the Himalayan country’s centuries-old monarchy. While there is still support for the monarchy, few Nepalis will mourn the exit of King Gyanendra, who seized absolute power in 2005 only to be forced into restoring democracy a year later by widespread protests.

Earlier this month, the American ambassador to Nepal met for the first time with the leader of the former rebels, which Washington still officially considers terrorists.

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