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Nepal head tells general to stay

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The general's sacking has sparked unrest in the country

The President of Nepal, Ram Baran Yadav, has ordered the head of the army to remain in office despite his dismissal by the prime minister.

President Yadav said the sacking of General Rookmangud Katawal, who refused to integrate ex-Maoist rebel fighters into the army, was unconstitutional.

The Communist UML party pulled out of the Maoist-led government in protest at the dismissal of the army chief.

The row is the most serious in Nepal since the civil war ended in 2006.

Last year the Maoists won the most votes in elections which followed the abolition of the country's centuries-old monarchy.

The UML withdrawal leaves the Maoists with a slender parliamentary majority.

Major crisis

The dispute between Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Gen Katawal centres on a plan to integrate thousands of former Maoist rebels into the army - a move resisted by many military commanders.

"Being the head of the state and the supreme commander of the Nepal Army I order you to continue with your duty," the president told Gen Katawal by letter.

Nepali Maoist supporters demonstrate in Kathmandu
Maoist protesters marched in support of the prime minister's move

The Maoists say that Nepal's peace process is in now "in peril" because of the political row over the sacking.

"Our party has taken the president's step as a constitutional coup and we will fight against it," Maoist spokesman and cabinet minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara told the AFP news agency.

The BBC's Nepali editor in Kathmandu, Rabindra Mishra, says that the country now faces a major crisis which could result in the peace process unravelling, the new constitution remaining unwritten and the Maoists struggling to stay in power.

Our correspondent says that the situation at the moment is fluid, with no-one able to say whether a compromise between feuding factions can be reached.

Much will depend, our correspondent says, on what the prime minister says in his address to the nation which is due to be made imminently.

'Indoctrinated'

Communist UML general secretary Ishwar Pokharel said: "The party has decided to leave the coalition and withdraw support to the Maoists."

The government wants to integrate former Maoist rebel fighters into the army, and accused Gen Katawal of defying government orders to stop hiring new recruits and to get rid of eight generals.

The army chief has been refusing to integrate former Maoist fighters that he views as politically indoctrinated.

The Maoists fought the army for more than a decade before giving up their armed revolt, and the relationship between the two sides has been tense since the former rebels came into power last year.

During the conflict, 13,000 people died.

General Rookmangud Katawal
Gen Katawal is nearing the end of his career

In March, the Nepalese Supreme Court ordered the defence ministry to put on hold its decision to retire the eight generals from the army.

Several coalition representatives walked out of the cabinet meeting in protest at the proposed sacking, but a vote went ahead.

"We have been insisting that the decision on the army chief should be taken through consensus among all political parties but the prime minister decided to ignore us," said Deputy Prime Minister Bamdev Gautam, according to the Associated Press news agency.

Gen Katawal is due to retire in four months.



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