Nepal’s new government seeks peace talks with Maoist rebels

? Nepal’s government and lawmakers offered proposals Sunday to quell a decade-long communist insurgency, calling for a cease-fire and peace talks with Maoist rebels and elections for an assembly to rewrite the constitution.

Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and the legislators urged negotiations with the rebels, who played a key role in protests that forced the king to give up power last week and appear headed for a role in the political mainstream.

“The Parliament is now totally committed to holding elections for the constitutional assembly, and the unanimous vote today proved that,” Ram Sharan Mahat, general secretary of Nepali Congress, the country’s largest political party, said after a motion passed.

A new constitution was the Maoists’ key demand, he noted, and the passage of the motion was expected to help appease them.

The rebels have been fighting since 1996 to establish a communist state in Nepal.

About 12,000 people have died in the conflict.

The new government of Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, who was sworn in earlier in the day, now must spell out the dates and other details of the talks and the constitutional assembly.

Nepal's newly appointed Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, center, receives flowers from an official at the prime minister's office in Katmandu, Nepal. Koirala on Sunday urged Maoist rebels to sit down for peace talks as he began the challenge of keeping his political alliance together and steering this troubled Himalayan country toward peace and democracy.

Normally, King Gyanendra would also have to approve the motion, though with the new constitution expected to severely limit royal authority to prevent the king from taking absolute power again, his signature apparently would not be required.

Earlier Sunday, the ailing 84-year-old Koirala briefly addressed Parliament – which opened its first session in four years Friday – calling on the communist insurgents to come out of the political cold, as he began the challenge of keeping his alliance together and steering the troubled Himalayan country toward peace and democracy.

“I urge the Maoists today to give up violence and come forward for peace talks,” said Koirala, who was greeted by legislators with a standing ovation.

He spoke for only a few minutes and remained seated in a break from tradition as he began his fifth stint as prime minister.

A few hours earlier, Gyanendra swore in Koirala at the royal palace in central Katmandu, the first time the two had come face-to-face since weeks of bloody protests – led in part by Koirala – forced the monarch to give up complete control and bring back democracy.

The king patted the frail-looking Koirala on his arm before issuing the oath of office in a palace hall, where two stuffed tigers reared up on hind legs in the background.

A lung ailment had repeatedly delayed the swearing-in of Koirala, who was accompanied to the palace by his doctor.

Koirala, a one-time labor organizer who is among the country’s most senior politicians, was chosen prime minister because he was the most acceptable candidate among the leading seven-party alliance, political leaders have said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions.

Koirala was expected today to name ministers in his government – including representatives from all the seven main political parties that formed an alliance to protest the king’s seizure of power last year.