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Nepal vows to stop next month's anti-king protests

Written by: Staff

KATHMANDU, Mar 28 (Reuters) Nepal's royalist government today vowed to stop next month's anti-king protests by political parties, saying that the Maoists were trying to use them to stir up trouble in the Himalayan nation.

Nepal's seven main political parties have called a four-day nationwide general strike and a series of protests from April 6 against King Gyanendra who seized total power early last year.

Last week, the Maoists and political parties reaffirmed their ''strong commitment'' to a loose deal struck in November to force King Gyanendra to relinquish his powers. The rebels have pledged to support the protests.

''Those protests are effectively the programmes of the terrorists,'' Home (interior) Minister Kamal Thapa told reporters referring to the Maoists. ''The government will not allow them to take place.'' Thapa said the government had ''credible information'' that the guerrillas had infiltrated into Kathmandu and, to counter the tactic, authorities had stepped up security in the hill-ringed capital, home to more than 1.5 million people.

''The government will do everything within law to stop the protests, protect life and property of the people and maintain security,'' Thapa said.

In January, the appointed government introduced a curfew and scuttled a protest rally that was expected to draw thousands.

To block the latest planned protests, authorities have banned pillion riding on two wheelers for two weeks to try and stop motorcycle-borne Maoists from attacking troops.

The government has also asked people not to travel into Kathmandu during the period from other areas in the embattled nation except on emergencies and to carry identity cards while commuting in the city.

But seven political parties, who between them shared more than 190 seats in the 205-member parliament dissolved in 2002, say they will go ahead with their ''peaceful'' protests for the restoration of democracy.

Analysts said both sides were heading for a showdown.

''Each side is waiting for the other to blink first,'' said Kunda Dixit, editor of the Nepali Times daily.

Nepal has seen almost daily protests since King Gyanendra sacked the government and seized power in February last year, a move he said was necessary to fight the Maoists.

Despite the king's move, violence has continued unabated.

The decade-old revolt has killed more than 13,000 people --- 300 of them since January when the Maosits ended a unilateral truce after the government refused to match it.

Human rights groups said civilians were suffering.

''Civilian casualties, which decreased significantly during the ceasefire, have quickly escalated,'' New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

The rebels, who want to overthrow the monarchy and set up a communist state in the impoverished nation, recently vowed to take their battle to the cities. Until now, the fighting has mainly raged in the countryside where the rebels hold sway.

Reuters DKS GC2024

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