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Fresh protests in Nepal against king's rule

Written by: Staff
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KATHMANDU, Apr 7 (Reuters) Hundreds of Nepali students fought pitched battles with police today, braving tear gas, hurling stones and chanting pro-democracy slogans as a four-day general strike against the king's rule entered its second day.

The strike and protests have been called by the Himalayan kingdom's seven main political parties in what they hope will be a definitive campaign against King Gyanendra, who sacked the government and took control of the nation last year.

Students shouting ''Death to Gyanendra'' charged at riot police in the Tribhuvan University campus in the capital, as dozens of tear gas shells were fired at them.

Carrying a Communist Party flag, hundreds of students hurled stones at police. Some beat up a constable who got separated from his comrades while others destroyed two statues of the king's grandmother on the campus.

Riot police also fired tear gas shells and rubber bullets at protesters in Lalitpur town in the capital region, where the government had banned protests.

Protesters set fire to a post office, which was doused.

Tyres were thrown on the road and set on fire at some places.

''Vacate Narayanhiti, Democratic Republic is arriving,'' some activists shouted, referring to the royal palace in Kathmandu.

''We want Democracy'', ''Down with Gyanendra'', ''Gyanendra leave the country'', others chanted.

Large but peaceful protests were held elsewhere across the country, political parties said, adding that about 200 activists were detained in the capital region today.

CURFEW LIKELY Although pro-democracy protests have become routine since King Gyanendra took power in February 2005, political parties say the latest demonstrations will be the largest so far and hope they will be decisive in bringing democracy back.

The latest campaign is backed by Nepal's Maoist insurgents, who have been waging a bloody battle since 1996 to topple the monarchy and establish communist rule.

But the rebels are not taking part in the protests and have announced an indefinite ceasefire in the Kathmandu region to help the political demonstrations.

The main rally is due in Kathmandu tomorrow, April 8, the day multi-party democracy was established 16 years ago.

''There will be massive demonstrations tomorrow. This movement will not stop until the people's rights are restored,'' said Shobhakhar Parajuli, a top Nepali Congress official.

But the government was likely to impose a curfew in and around Kathmandu tomorrow to thwart the rally, one senior government official told Reuters.

''The government has been restrained. We want to maintain law and order by using as little force as possible,'' Home Minister Kamal Thapa later told a news conference.

''The government has several options provided by the constitution and law. It can be curfew, imposition of an emergency and there are others,'' he said without elaborating.

The royalist government says it does not trust the Maoist guerrillas to stay out of the picture and has thrown a security blanket over the hill-ringed capital of 1.5 million people, including stationing armoured vehicles on some main streets.

The Maoist revolt has killed more than 13,000 people, wrecked the economy of one of the 10 poorest countries in the world and forced thousands of people to flee the fighting in the countryside, largely controlled by the rebels.

The king justified his 2005 takeover saying political parties had failed to crush the Maoists and hold elections. But his arguments have failed to convince leading nations, who want him to hold talks with the parties and restore democracy.

''There is no logic to support the king, there is no reason to support the king, he's done a travesty to democracy,'' US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher said at a business conference in New Delhi.

REUTERS SBJ BS2101

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