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India mounts pressure

With scene set for a grim street battle in Kathmandu, Indian envoy Karan Singh arrived with a crisis message.

india Updated: Apr 20, 2006 04:33 IST

Envoys from India carried a crisis message to Nepal King on Wednesday as the death toll rose ahead of a scheduled mass pro-democracy protest marking the start of the third week of a bitter general strike.

Envoy Karan Singh arrived with the scene set for a grim street battle on Thursday in the capital, where protests are banned, and a diplomatic showdown between mighty republican neighbour India and the absolute monarch in Nepal.

Adding to the tension, the protest death toll rose to six when a woman died on Tuesday night from face wounds after security forces and thousands of demonstrators clashed during an anti-royal rally in western Nepal, police said.

"A women protester died after being hit in the face by a tear gas grenade," a police officer told the agency from Nepalgunj, 500 kms west of the capital Kathmandu.

He said 25 civilians were injured, two seriously, during the protest by at least 20,000 people.

The officer admitted live rounds as well as rubber bullets and tear gas had been fired at the crowd when violence broke out.

"Yes, we fired .303 bullets at the crowd to disperse them and bring the situation under control," he said.

Fifteen members of the security forces were also hurt, three seriously, during the clashes in the biggest town in western Nepal.

The unnamed woman was the second female to die in the demonstrations and general strike that have swept Nepal and entered their 14th day on Wednesday.

Although some small shops opened and taxis were on the roads, the capital remained largely paralysed after another day of strikes, protests, arrests and dozens of reported injuries nationwide.

Several dozen home ministry workers were arrested as the mass movement spread to government offices. "I wish for peace in Nepal and I am optimistic," special envoy Singh told reporters at Kathmandu airport.

He was to join India's Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran in meeting Nepalese political leaders later Wednesday. The pair was expected to see King Gyanendra on Thursday.

The same day seven opposition parties have pledged to hold a major rally in Kathmandu as the next step in the nationwide movement to force the King to give up absolute power.

Singh warned on Tuesday that civil unrest was "spinning out of control" in the Himalayan nation.

"We do not want to interfere in the internal affairs of any other country but the situation in Nepal seems to be spinning out of control," said the senior diplomat.

"The prime minister has asked me to go to Nepal to take a message to the king and also make a general assessment of the situation," said Singh, whose wife is the grand-daughter of the last Rana dynasty prime minister of Nepal.

The 75-year-old said India was worried the civil unrest could lead to a humanitarian crisis in the landlocked nation.