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King begins damage control

While the King called for peace, security forces arrested scores of protesters in the capital and outer districts.

india Updated: Apr 17, 2006 20:30 IST

Nepal King Gyanendra on Friday called for a lasting peace in the country while inaugurating a religious programme, even as scores of protesters were arrested nationwide on the second day of a shutdown called by the opposition parties.

Accompanied by Queen Komal, the King inaugurated a ceremony in Pipra in Birgunj town celebrating the silver jubilee of the World Hindu Parishad, a socio-religious group that has close ties with India's Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

"Nepal has never experienced religious riots," the ruler of the only Hindu kingdom in the world said. "It can be taken as a symbol of religious tolerance and harmonious co-existence."

While Hinduism had retained its purity in Nepal, the Kingdom was also the birthplace of the Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, and had been visited by Guru Nanak as well as the first 'tirthankar' or holy leader of the Jains, Bharat, the king said.

"Lasting peace is the need of the day, I ask everyone to devote some time to peace building," the King said at the end of his nearly 15-minute speech before hundreds of people, including ministers, religious leaders and politicians. Several people from India participated.

The ceremony was also attended by Bollywood actress Manisha Koirala.

While the King called for peace, security forces arrested scores of protesters in the capital and outer districts as a coalition of seven opposition parties continued their four-day shutdown against the usurping of power by the king in a coup last year.

Though the government banned mass meetings and imposed indefinite night curfew, angry protesters marched out from several parts of the city, clashing with police.

Bank workers joined the protests that paralysed the Kingdom for the second day, closing down colleges, shops and markets.

The high point of the shutdown is scheduled for Saturday when the Opposition has declared it would hold a mass protest and the government has vowed to stop it at any cost.

The government says it has information that Maoist insurgents have infiltrated the valley and will wreak havoc during the protest rallies.

However, the rebels issued a statement announcing they would halt all violence indefinitely to allow the opposition protests to be held in peace.

International condemnation of the mass arrests has been pouring in with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan expressing concern at the fresh confrontation and the US, European Union and Japan condemning the arrests.

The opposition parties, who formed a loose alliance with the Maoists, are pressing for the restoration of parliament dissolved in 2002 and are asking the King to hand over executive power.