Maoist general strike shuts down Nepal

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By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU, Dec 20 (Reuters) - Maoists in Nepal launched a general strike on Sunday, shuttering businesses and keeping vehicles off the roads in their biggest protest since they quit the government and plunged the Himalayan nation into crisis.

The Maoists demand a return to power, saying they were "unconstitutionally" forced to resign seven months ago in a row with the president over the sacking of the army chief.

Supporters of the former rebels roamed the streets with hammer and sickle flags to enforce the three-day strike across the country, due to proceed until Tuesday.

"Our efforts to break the deadlock with political parties in the government have failed," Maoist chief and former prime minister Prachanda, who still goes by his nom de guerre, said after a party meeting late on Saturday.

"Our strike will be peaceful."

Analysts says the standoff between the Maoists and the government has stalled the peace process after the end of a decade-long civil war and slowed the development of one of the world's poorest countries.

Authorities said the strike was unlikely to cause shortages of food and other essential goods because of its short duration.

Riot police were deployed across the capital Kathmandu to prevent outbreaks of violence such as arson.

"Four vehicles have been torched by protesters and we have detained 10 activists," Home (interior) Ministry Spokesman Jai Mukunda Khanal said.

The Maoists led a coalition government after they emerged as the largest political group in last year's election.

But in May Prachanda quit as prime minister after failing to fire the then army chief, who was backed by the president.

The Maoists say the president, whose duties are generally ceremonial, undermined the supremacy of the civilian government by overruling the cabinet.

(Editing by Matthias Williams and Ron Popeski)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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