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Maoists hold mass protest

world Updated: Nov 12, 2009 11:09 IST

Thousands of Maoist activists took to the streets of Nepal's capital on Thursday for one of the biggest anti-government protests since the former rebels lost power in May.

Chanting "Down with the puppet government" and waving red flags, the protesters surrounded the main government complex in the heart of Kathmandu and blocked off all entrances to the area.

"Nepal may have become a republic, but we have yet to achieve true people's rule," protester Shanchalal Waiba said outside the Singha Durbar government complex.

"This protest may bring difficulties to the people in the short term, but in the long term it will bring a better future."

The Maoists won landmark elections in Nepal last year and abolished the monarchy, but their government fell after just eight months when the president overruled their attempt to sack the head of the army.

The former guerrillas, who fought a 10-year civil war against the state that ended in 2006, now want the president to apologise for blocking the army chief's removal -- a move they say was unconstitutional.

Party leaders have said they hope to mobilise at least 300,000 people for the two-day protest, which will continue on Friday, and more than 2,000 riot police have been deployed in the capital.

Both the Maoists and the government have said they want to avoid violence during the protest and an AFP reporter said Thursday's demonstration appeared peaceful.

Protesters are banned from entering an exclusion zone around Singha Durbar and authorities had said they would expand the zone during the two-day protest.

But they backed down after the Maoists said they would defy the new rules.

"We will not allow the Maoists to move beyond the restricted zone," police official Ashutosh Rana said.

"So far the protest has been peaceful and we are committed to show maximum restraint."