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Popular pressure spurs Nepal Maoists to end general strike

Nepal's Maoists ended a six-day general strike that had angered citizens and prompted 10,000 people to demonstrate in Kathmandu Friday. The move may signal their willingness to adopt a more conciliatory political stance.

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The shutdown was meant to force Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal to step down and allow Maoist chairman Prachanda to lead a new government. “The second unspoken agenda of the shutdown was to shift the blame for the Constituent Assembly’s incompetence on ruling parties,” says Acharya. The assembly, elected in 2008 as part of the peace process, has until May 28 to draw a new constitution.

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But a power struggle since May last year, when Prachanda’s coalition government collapsed over the sacking of an Army chief, has hindered the assembly’s work, making it impossible for the assembly to meet that deadline.

Yubaraj Ghimire, former editor of Kathmandu Post daily, says the strike cost the Maoists more than just popular support. It also cost them the recognition as a political force they enjoyed since 2006.

“More than anyone, the shutdown affected the farmers and daily wage earners who the Maoists claim to represent,” Mr. Ghimire says. “A half-hearted response will not help Maoists regain the respect they have lost from the grassroots."

Before Friday evening, the Maoists appeared intent on prolonging the strike, as calling it off without some face-saving result would demoralize their supporters who have spent days on the streets beaten down by the sun and pre-monsoon drizzle in Kathmandu. In the press conference Friday evening, Prachanda said he would hold a mass gathering in Kathmandu on Saturday to explain his decision.

Low-key government stand

The government took a low-key approach to handling the shutdown, directing security personnel not to use lethal force and to intervene only to control clashes. The strategy appeared to be to wait for the protesters and their leaders to tire out.

With more than simple majority support in the parliament, the prime minister is constitutionally entitled to continue to head the coalition government.

But a prolonged shutdown could have tested the prime minister’s competence, says Narayan Wagle, editor of Nagarik daily, as his government’s inability to ensure that Nepalese citizens enjoy their rights to live normal lives could have turned the tide against him.

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