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Nepal clamps curfew ahead of rally

Govt authorities detained hundreds of politicians and student activists ahead of anti-King rally in capital Kathmandu.

india Updated: Jan 20, 2006 10:48 IST

Nepal's royalist government said it would impose a curfew on Friday after seven political parties said they would defy a ban on protests and organise a rally against the King in the capital.

Authorities began a crackdown on Thursday by detaining hundreds of politicians and student activists and snapping telephone links a day before the planned rally, which will call for a restoration of democracy.

An Interior Ministry spokesman informed that Friday's curfew would be from 8 am to 6 pm.

"Hundreds of leaders and activists of the seven political parties have been arrested," the country's biggest party, the Nepali Congress, said in a statement, adding that dozens of those detained were former ministers.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was dismayed by the arrests ahead of the demonstration, UN chief spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in New York.

Ian Martin, the representative in Nepal for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has raised the matter with the government and UN aides have visited 97 of the more than 120 people said to have been detained, he said.

Police said only 71 were in custody in the crackdown that began at dawn. Human Rights Organisation of Nepal, a leading Nepali rights group, said 89 people had been detained.

The government gave no reason for their detention.

"Some policemen came to my house soon after dawn, searched the building and left without arresting me," Madhav Kumar Nepal, general secretary of the Communist Party of Nepal-UML, the country's second-largest party, said.

Authorities restored telephone land lines cut off since 5 am after three hours but mobile phones remained disabled. A reporter said the Internet was still functioning.

India slammed the royalist government for its latest crackdown.

The United States urged the King to release the detainees and said dialogue between the parties and a return to democracy were the tools for ending the Maoist insurgency.

"Autocratic regime"

Analysts said further restrictions could follow.

"This sort of crackdown was to be expected only under the King's autocratic regime," said Rajendra Dahal, editor of the Himal magazine. "It is all heading for a confrontation."

Human rights groups also condemned the crackdown.

"This is an ugly attempt by King Gyanendra to suppress legitimate democratic rights with complete disregard for the international community, and it only raises legitimate questions about the future of the monarchy," Suhas Chakma, director of the New Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights, said.

The king's power seizure last year sparked criticism from the United States, Britain and India, and calls for a return to democracy. The three countries suspended arms aid to Nepal.

Thousands were expected to attend Friday's rally in Kathmandu aimed at pressing Gyanendra to restore democratic rule, a year after he sacked the government, seized absolute power, jailed politicians and suspended civil liberties.

The government said it banned the rally as anti-monarchy Maoist rebels could infiltrate it and cause trouble.

Telephone lines and Internet connections were cut last year after the King seized power on the grounds that he needed to stem an increasingly bloody Maoist insurgency in which more than 12,500 people have been killed since 1996.

Earlier this week, the government declared a night curfew in the hill-ringed capital after Maoist guerrillas killed 12 policemen in coordinated attacks around Kathmandu.

The attacks were the rebels' deadliest since they ended a four-month-old unilateral truce on January 2 saying the government had failed to reciprocate. At least 45 people have been killed in the weeks that followed.

First Published: Jan 20, 2006 09:42 IST