Police fired warning shots on Friday as thousands of protesters gathered in Nepal's capital to demand an end to a crippling general strike imposed by former communist guerrillas seeking the government's resignation.
The estimated crowd of 20,000, including doctors, lawyers, business executives, singers, teachers, and daily wage labourers, demanded a halt to the six-day strike that has shut down transportation, businesses and schools in Kathmandu and other cities. It was the largest protest against the Maoist-imposed strike since it began on Sunday.
The Maoists want Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal to resign and hand power over to a Maoist-led administration. The government has said it won't bow to the demands.
The Maoists traditionally back their strike calls with the threat of violence against those who defy them, and their supporters went into Kathmandu neighbourhoods on Friday to try to forcibly shut shops that owners opened for business.
Thousands of police in riot gear guarded the capital's streets to prevent violence.
Police reported at least two clashes on Friday and officers shot weapons into the air and fired tear gas canisters to bring the situation under control. No information on casualties was immediately available.
The unrest has raised fears of renewed bloodshed in Nepal, where the Maoists ended their decade-old insurgency ,which left an estimated 13,000 people dead, and joined a peace process in 2006.
The communists won elections in 2008 and briefly led a coalition government. A dispute over the army chief's firing, however, split the coalition, leading to the formation of the current administration that the Maoists are trying to topple.
Residents opposed to the strike began lashing out on Thursday, assaulting strike supporters and setting a car on fire in scattered clashes in the capital and other towns.
The unrest comes as Nepal's Constituent Assembly, elected to draw up a new constitution, struggles to draft the charter before its term expires May 28.