Nepal's new prime minister, party leaders meet

Nepal's new prime minister conferred with top political leaders Monday on choosing a Cabinet whose key task will be negotiating peace with communist rebels, party officials said.

Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala met at his house with leaders of the seven main political parties that spearheaded weeks of often-bloody protests that forced the king to relinquish absolute control and hand power back to the Himalayan country's politicians last week.

The death toll among protesters killed in clashes with security forces rose Monday to 17 after an activist died of head wounds suffered when he was hit by a police baton on April 21, said Dr. Sambhu Upadhay of Katmandu's Model Hospital.

The newly reinstated Parliament on Sunday called unanimously for an assembly to rewrite the constitution, and for a cease-fire with Maoist insurgents. The insurgents played a major role in the anti-monarchy protests and appear headed for a role in the political mainstream.

A new constitution has been the Maoists' top demand. The new government under Koirala, who was sworn in earlier Sunday, now must spell out the dates and other details of the constitutional assembly.

Later Monday, Koirala was to name ministers, expected to include representatives from all seven of the main parties.

Koirala, 84 and suffering from persistent lung ailments, got a standing ovation Sunday before he addressed Parliament, which opened its first session in four years on Friday.

He urged the communist insurgents to come out of the political cold as he began the challenge of keeping his alliance together and steering the troubled country toward peace and democracy.

"I urge the Maoists today to give up violence and come forward for peace talks," Koirala said.

He remained seated during his brief speech, 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 cede power, reports the AP.

I.L.