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Maoists Head to Victory in Nepal's National Assembly Election

The leader of Nepal's Maoists is trying to reassure his country and the world that the former rebels will play a constructive political role as election returns show the far-left party making a much stronger-than-expected showing. Election officials say the Maoists - labeled by Washington as a terrorist organization - have won at least 70 seats in constituencies where counting has been completed. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kathmandu.

Maoists have taken to the streets of Nepal's capital to celebrate although election results will not be finalized for days, if not weeks. The former rebels have reason to be jubilant as officials say the Maoist party has won more than half of the constituencies declared so far.

Although unlikely to secure an outright majority under the complex electoral system, the Maoists could be in a position to lead a coalition government. And the first official duty of the elected special assembly will be to declare the country a republic, ending Nepal's two-and-a-half century old royal dynasty.

The Maoists are led by Prachanda, whose real name is Pushpa Kamal Dahal. On Saturday, the former leader of the decade-long insurgency against the government was declared the landslide winner in his Kathmandu constituency. He immediately sought to reassure the country and the international community that the Maoists are fully committed to working within Nepal's new political system.

"I try to clear this position that our commitment [is] for peace, our commitment [is] for change, mainly this federal republican system and economic rebuilding and to have a good relation, good diplomatic relations all over the world, with all the countries," he said.

That would require a change of stance by the United States which still considers Nepal's Maoists a terrorist organization.

Former US President Jimmy Carter, speaking in Kathmandu on Saturday, said he hopes the election results would lead Washington to accept the former rebels as legitimate political players in Nepal. "If the Maoists do continue to gain substantial status among the candidates, which we don't yet know, then my hope is that the United States will recognize and begin to do business with the Maoists," said Mr. Carter.

Analysts say India would certainly have reservations about a Maoist victory in Nepal giving encouragement to India's indigenous Maoist insurgents, known as the Naxalites.

Despite the Nepal rebels taking their name from Mao Tse-Tung, the founder of the Peoples Republic of China, the Beijing government traditionally armed the

Maoists' enemy, the Royal Nepalese Army.

At home a Maoist-led government could unsettle many in Nepal's army and the police, which backed the king, who has now been stripped of all power. A cornerstone of the Maoists' armed struggle was abolition of the monarchy.

Regardless of the election outcome, the 2006 peace pact between the Maoists and the government calls for the special assembly to figure out how to integrate thousands of soldiers of the People's Liberation Army into a reformed Nepal Army.