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Delhi hard talk on Nepal

New Delhi/ Kathmandu, March 7: India today read out the riot act to visiting Nepalese foreign minister Ramesh Nath Pandey, insisting it was time King Gyanendra took immediate steps to restore democracy in the country.

As part of its tough stance, it also refused to set up meetings between Pandey and Sonia Gandhi and other key players in the UPA government. It iterated that future military supplies to Nepal would remain 'under constant review'.

Delhi has put on hold all military supplies to Nepal since February 1, the day the king sacked the Sher Bahadur Deuba government, detained most party leaders and imposed emergency.

Pandey's visit comes at a time when key donor countries, particularly the US and the European Union, have made it clear that future aid to Nepal will be on hold till democracy is restored.

There has been speculation over the past few days that the minister's job is on the line because he has failed to turn around the international community's displeasure against the coup. Sources said Pandey could have made the visit in a last-ditch effort to get Delhi to rally behind the king.

'Events since February 1, 2005 have only served to demonstrate that not only has the security situation in Nepal not improved, but that the country is facing a deteriorating economic situation as well,' foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said at this evening's briefing.

Although Pandey was received with courtesy and lunch was hosted for him by foreign minister Natwar Singh, his assurances that the king would soon restore multiparty democracy did not cut much ice.

Singh expressed India's disappointment at the king's actions, which, he said, had 'only served to deepen the crisis' in Nepal and could 'endanger' the institution of monarchy.

As heat piled on the king, the Maoist-affiliated All Nepal Trade Union Federation withdrew its call for closure of 16 industries, including the biggest Indo-Nepal joint venture, Surya Tobacco.

In an interview to BBC Nepali service, trade union chairman Shalikram Jamarkattel said he had decided to withdraw the strike in the larger interests of the workers.

After the trade union ordered the closure from February 22, several units based in industrial estates outside Kathmandu valley had scaled down operations considerably. Some based in Kathmandu valley resumed operations after remaining shut for a few days.

The development comes as a huge relief for Surya Tobacco, which employs nearly 500 people and is located in Simara, a Maoist stronghold. The Indian partner holds a 59 per cent share in the joint venture.

Another company on the Maoist hit list was the Soaltee group of industries owned by Prabhakar Rana, a close associate of the king.

The group owns the Kathmandu-based Soaltee Hotel, Nepal's first five-star, which was bombed during a similar shutdown call last September.

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