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Nepal political leaders meet but fail to reach agreement; constitutional crisis looms Friday

KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Nepalese government and opposition leaders failed Wednesday to resolve disagreements that could leave the Himalayan nation without a functioning legislature by the weekend and heading for political chaos, a ruling coalition official said.

The two-year term of the Constituent Assembly, which was elected in 2008, expires on Friday. The assembly was meant to draft a new constitution to help guide Nepal out of years of civil war and upheaval, but has achieved little due to political bickering.

When the assembly's term expires, so does Nepal's interim constitution. The main opposition party of former Maoist rebels say the current government would lose it legitimacy which could leave the country in chaos.

The government has proposed extending the assembly's term by one year but the Maoists, who control the most seats in the assembly, have refused to support the proposal unless the government resigns and allows their party to lead a new coalition administration.

In a last-ditch effort to forge an agreement, top government party leaders, including Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, met in the capital, Katmandu, on Wednesday with opposition chiefs, including Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal.

They reached no agreement but would meet again later on Wednesday to try to resolve the deadlock, said Krishna Sitaula, a senior leader of the Nepali Congress, which is part of the ruling coalition. Sitaula was at the meeting.

Earlier this month, the Maoists mounted a general strike that shut down Nepal for a week, and they have threatened to mount more protests. Analysts fear that failure to reach a political resolution could lead to violent conflict.

The Maoists ended their decade-old rebellion in 2006 and joined a peace process. Since then they have confined their fighters in U.N.-monitored camps and joined mainstream politics.

They won 2008 elections and formed a government but it later fell in a dispute with the nation's president over Dahal's attempt to replace the army chief who was resisting the recruitment of former rebel fighters into the military.