Nepal Maoists stage first post-war convention

Thousands of Nepal's former rebel Maoists are due to gather Saturday for their biggest show of strength since taking up arms in a 10-year insurgency and toppling the world's last Hindu monarchy.

Party leaders who swept to power in 2008 elections following a peace deal, are using a general convention in the southern industrial hub of Hetauda to shore up grassroots support amid growing disillusionment among the rank-and-file.

Around 3,000 delegates from across the Himalayan nation attending the party's first convention in 21 years will hear opening speeches from the party's charismatic leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai.

Among issues up for discussion will be the formation of a new federal structure for Nepal as well as the ending of gender and caste-based discrimination, said Finance Minister Barsha Man Pun.

"We were able to bring about such radical transformation in Nepali state apparatus even as the third-largest party 21 years ago," he told the English-language Republica daily newspaper.

"Now, as the largest party, the impact of our general convention in shaping the national politics, economy and society will be even greater."

An estimated 16,000 people died in the 1996-2006 conflict fought by the Maoists against the monarchy, which was deposed when the rebels turned to mainstream politics and took power in elections.

In-fighting, including a split in the party last year, has confounded efforts to draw up a post-conflict constitution spelling out how Nepal should be run.

An interim assembly elected for the task was dissolved in May and the Maoists now lead Nepal as the major partner in a shaky caretaker coalition which has had little power to make fundamental policy decisions.

Party leaders will try to ensure the support of former cadres struggling to rejoin civilian life after the war, many of whom have complained of a sense of betrayal that their sacrifices have been forgotten.