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Nepal's Political Opposition Critcizes Dissolving Parliament - 2002-05-23

Opposition parties in Nepal have criticized the government's decision to dissolve parliament and call fresh elections. The mountain kingdom has been plunged into political instability at a critical time, while it is battling to crush a bloody Maoist insurgency.

The midnight statement from Nepal's King Gyanendra, dissolving Parliament, came after it became apparent Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba could not get political support to extend a state of emergency in the mountain kingdom.

Emergency rule was imposed last November to fight a Maoist insurgency. It would have expired Saturday without parliament's approval.

But hours ahead of a crucial debate and vote on extending the emergency, a powerful dissident faction within Mr. Deuba's Nepali Congress party announced it would oppose the extension. The revolt within the prime minister's own party prompted him to recommend parliament's dissolution.

It will now be possible for the cabinet to extend emergency rule without parliament's approval. Fresh elections will be held on November 13.

The sudden decision to call new elections threatens Nepal with renewed political instability. Prime Minister Deuba is now coming in for sharp criticism from rivals within his own party, as well as from opposition groups.

The main opposition, United Marxist-Leninist Communist party, has accused Mr. Deuba of trying to pursue his own interests and said parliament's dissolution went againt democratic norms.

A senior leader in the ruling Congress party, Ram Chandra Paudel, condemned the step, saying it will be difficult to hold elections while the government is engaged in trying to crush the Maoist insurgency.

The government said it is easier to fight the Maoist uprising under emergency rule. But critics argue that current anti-terrorism laws are sufficient to deal with the rebels and complain that the emergency has given the government sweeping powers, including the suspension of civil liberties.

Analysts also have said the decision to dissolve parliament will delay any attempts to reach a political consensus on how to tackle the Maoist rebellion, which has intensified in recent months. The insurgents want to establish a one-party communist state in Nepal.

Nepal became a multi-party democracy in 1990. But a series of weak, short-lived governments and the bloody Maoist rebellion have raised fears about the future of its democracy.