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King cuts off Nepal from rest of world

Already reeling under an extended period of curfew, people in Nepal woke up to find their phones out of order.

india Updated: Jan 19, 2006 12:14 IST

Nepal's King Gyanendra on Thursday once again cut off Kathmandu valley from the rest of the world, snapping all telephone links, in a chilling repetition of last year when he staged a coup and unleashed a series of draconian curbs.

People of the valley, already reeling under an extended period of curfew clamped from 9 pm to 4 am by the home ministry from Wednesday for an indefinite period, woke up to find telephones and mobile phones out of order.

Though landlines were restored after 8 am, mobile phones still remained disconnected.

It revived the memory of the nightmare last year when all phone lines were cut immediately after the king's announcement on the state-run Nepal Television channel February 1 that he was dismissing the government.

The snapping of telecom links comes on the eve of a mass protest called by seven major parliamentary parties in Kathmandu city on Friday that has fast snowballed into a trial of strength between the government and the opposition.

The opposition alliance, which has been protesting Gyanendra's power grab on February 1, 2005, and is now campaigning for a boycott of the municipal elections called by the king February 8, had predicted telephone links would be disrupted before their rally in the capital.

"Since last yearend, when we started holding poll boycott rallies in outer districts like Butwal and Dhanusha, the government blatantly employed the entire administrative and security machinery to disrupt our meetings," said the Nepali Congress (Democratic) party of former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, deposed and jailed since the royal coup.

"Telephone links were cut in Butwal and Janakpur and security forces tried to first scare and then force people away from the rallies."

For the showdown in the capital Friday, besides snapping telephone lines, the government has also clamped curfew indefinitely from 9 pm to 4 am, empowered security forces to shoot at sight during curfew hours and banned all demonstrations in key areas of the city.

Besides these curbs, the opposition predicts the government would impose martial rule on the eve of the municipal elections.

The telephone cuts come in defiance of the Vienna agreement signed by Nepal that allows the diplomatic missions in the kingdom unhindered access to telecommunication.

Last year, the king violated the agreement repeatedly after seizing power, triggering strong protests from the foreign embassies in Kathmandu. However, that proved no deterrent Thursday, just 12 days before the first anniversary of the royal coup.

The government claims the curbs are needed to combat the Maoist guerrillas who attacked two police posts in Kathmandu valley Saturday, killing 12 policemen.

However, the Maoists issued a statement from underground, saying they would abide by their understanding with the opposition and refrain from any show of force or incitement to violence during Friday's rally.

First Published: Jan 19, 2006 11:38 IST