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Five killed as Maoists clash with bank guards

Written by: Staff

KATHMANDU, Mar 22 (Reuters) Maoist rebels today clashed with police who were helping to transport cash between bank branches in east Nepal, killing at least five people, the army said.

The rebels are trying to topple the impoverished country's Hindu monarchy and set up a communist republic in a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people over the past decade.

Fifty-five people -- 27 Maoists, 25 security personnel and three civilians -- have died in a surge of violence that began after a rebels ended a road blockade on Sunday.

An army officer said two guerrillas, two police officers and a civilian were killed in the latest firefight, at Urlabari in Morang district, 600 km east of the capital Kathmandu.

The gunbattle was triggered after rebels began firing at police guarding cash that was being moved from one bank branch to the another. The rebels were not able to take the cash, the officer said.

Nepal's King Gyanendra seized power last year, justifying it as necessary in the fight against the insurgents. Nepal has witnessed almost daily street protests against the king, calling for the restoration of democracy and some civil liberties that he suspended.

Today, about 150 journalists protested in Kathmandu demanding full freedom for the media which has faced several curbs since last year, including a ban on independently reporting the Maoist conflict.

Last night, a blast in the office of the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation, an environmental group headed by Nepal's Crown Prince Paras, left two guards wounded in Kathmandu.

Reuters PG BD2058

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