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Nepal rebels attack town, curfew in capital

Written by: Staff
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KATHMANDU, Apr 24 (Reuters) Hundreds of Maoist rebels stormed a town in eastern Nepal and fought a six-hour gun battle with security forces, an official said today, as authorities clamped a fresh curfew on the capital to thwart anti-monarchy protests.

In Kathmandu, an alliance of seven political parties vowed to hold more protests against the king today for the 19th consecutive day, and bring hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets for a major rally tomorrow.

''We are preparing for a massive rally, to fill the entire ring road with people,'' Kashinath Adhikary, a senior official from the Communist Party of Nepal (UML), the country's second biggest political party, told Reuters.

Adikary said top party leaders would personally take to the streets on Tuesday for the first time since this round of protests began on April 6.

Authorities clamped a fresh curfew on the capital from 11 a.m.

until 6 p.m. in a bid to thwart Monday's planned protests.

Although the 27 km (17-mile) ring road lies within the curfew zone, large stretches are in the hands of the protesters, with burning logs and tyres blocking access to security forces.

On Friday King Gyanendra, who seized power last year, offered to hand it over to the seven-party alliance, but his offer was rejected by the parties and has failed to quell the protests.

REBEL ATTACK The country's main political parties entered a loose alliance with Maoist rebels to end royal rule last November.

The rebels, who control vast swathes of the countryside, have fought since 1996 to unseat the king and establish a communist republic in a conflict that has cost more than 13,000 lives.

On Sunday night hundreds of rebels attacked a police station, district administration office, telecommunications tower and a jail at Chautara, about 100 km (60 miles) east of Kathmandu, a senior government official told Reuters.

Communication links had been cut with the town, and there was no word yet on casualties.

''It appears to be a pretty big attack. But we have no details,'' the official, who declined to be named, told Reuters.

''District authorities have requested helicopter support and we are rushing in reinforcements.'' Chautara lies in the hills of Sindhupalchowk district, a stronghold of the rebels.

The attack may have been designed to increase pressure on the king and engage security forces already struggling to quell protests around the country.

Maoists are demanding elections for a special assembly to write a new constitution and curb the king's powers, a demand which the political parties have now taken up.

Rejecting Gyanendra's offer to hand over power, party leaders said they did not trust the king and want him to revive parliament, dissolved in 2002.

That in turn would give them the authority to call elections for an assembly to prepare a new constitution and could pave the way for the Maoists to rejoin the political mainstream.

The alliance has been agitating since April 6 to force Gyanendra to restore multi-party democracy. At least 12 people have been killed and thousands wounded in protests since then.

REUTERS CH BD1030

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