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Friday, 24 May, 2002, 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK
Nepal PM defiant
Three ministers resigned from Mr Deuba's cabinet on Thursday
The ruling party is deeply and publicly split
Nepal's embattled Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has defended his decision to dissolve parliament and promised elections will be held on time in November.

Addressing the nation on Friday, Mr Deuba said his decision to ask the king to dissolve parliament was the only option left to safeguard democracy.

Prime Minister SB Deuba
Deuba: Suspended by his party
The vast majority of his cabinet had earlier given him their support, defying a three-day deadline from the ruling Congress party to quit.

Nepal's political crisis began after it became clear the government lacked the majority needed in parliament to extend a six-month state of emergency imposed in the fight against Maoist rebels which runs out on Saturday.

Congress subsequently suspended Mr Deuba from the party, and accused him of conspiring to derail the country's young democracy.

In his statement, his first in two days of political turmoil, Mr Deuba admitted problems due to Maoist violence and the shattered economy, but called for everyone to pull together to ensure the 13 November poll was free and fair.

He said he was determined the elections, called two years early, would be conducted on time.

Many say elections should be not be held because of the security situation in the kingdom.

Factional fighting

Earlier in the day, 33 members of the 39-strong cabinet had issued a joint statement supporting Mr Dueba.

Their move came after three ministers, including influential Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat, resigned, complaining of being kept in the dark.

Party leader and former Prime Minister GP Koirala is unhappy with Mr Deuba
Congress leader Koirala: Deuba rival
There are no indications that others are likely to follow suit.

In their statement, the ministers not only expressed support for Mr Deuba, but also asked the Congress party president, GP Koirala, to drop action against the prime minister and avert a split in the party.

Mr Koirala, a veteran politician who has served several terms as prime minister, was forced out of office in July 2001 amid criticism of his handling of the Maoist insurgency.

He handed over the premiership to Mr Deuba but retained the party presidency.

Correspondents say the relationship between the two men has always been strained and the dissolution of the parliament has brought the party's inner conflicts out in the open.

Outside support

Mr Deuba believes the government needs the sweeping powers granted by the emergency to fight Maoist rebels.

Nepali Congress members gather before the party headquarters seeking information
The gloom among politically active Nepalis is deepening

Some members of the ruling party and opposition groups think existing anti-terrorism laws are enough, and say emergency powers have been abused.

Nepal is also seeking help from abroad in its campaign against the rebels,

The US pledged aid worth $20m and support has also been promised by the UK.

The Chief of the British General Staff, General Sir Michael Boyce, arrived in Kathmandu on a four-day visit on Friday to assess how best to help the Nepalese army.

Observers say that after several months of lacklustre performance, Nepal's security forces are in a relatively advantageous position against the rebels who want to replace Nepal's constitutional monarchy with a communist republic.

More than half of the 4,000 people killed in six years of civil war have lost their lives since the state of emergency was imposed last November.

Background to Nepal's Maoist war

Analysis

Eyewitness

Background:

BBC NEPALI SERVICE
See also:

23 May 02 | South Asia
23 May 02 | South Asia
21 May 02 | South Asia
20 May 02 | South Asia
11 May 02 | South Asia
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