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Maoist chosen new Nepal PM

KATHMANDU, Nepal, Aug. 29 (UPI) -- The Nepalese Parliament, where no political party has a majority, elected a Maoist as prime minister after the parties failed to form a consensus government.

Babuarm Bhattarai, 57, who holds a doctorate degree from New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, is vice chairman of the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which led a decade-long rebellion before agreeing to a peace process in 2006. His party, led by Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, holds the largest number of seats in Parliament without a majority.

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Bhattarai defeated his nearest rival, Ram Chandra Poudel of Nepali Congress Party by 340 to 235 votes, Nepalnews.com reported.

Bhattarai's party holds 237 seats in the 595-member Constituent Assembly.

The new prime minister was supported by the United Democratic Madhesi Front and some of the fringe parties.

The current round of the years-long political crisis in the landlocked Himalayan state, sandwiched between India and China, began after Bhattarai's predecessor Jhalanath Khanal of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) resigned Aug. 14 after being in office only since February as he, too, failed to come up with a consensus government.

The main issue in the political squabbling involves a Maoist demand of rehabilitating and integrating about 19,000 former rebels into the Nepalese military and security forces, which other parties don't accept.

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Bhattarai was finance minister in the first Maoist government led by Chairman Prachanda after the 2008 elections.

"He is not only popular among the middle class, but has also proven himself as the leader of the workers and peasants," Prachanda said in praising Bhattarai.

The new prime minister's other challenges include writing a new constitution for the country.

Bhattarai told Parliament before being elected that he is determined to complete the peace process and constitution drafting, The New York Times reported.

Nepal was a Hindu kingdom for more than two centuries before the Maoist insurgency.

As the current constituent assembly has only until Wednesday to have a new constitution in place to make way for a national government, a further extension of the deadline appeared unavoidable.

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