April 24, 2006

Six die as Nepal rebels raid town, curfew in capital

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - At least five Maoist rebels and a
Nepali soldier were killed when hundreds of rebels stormed an
eastern town overnight, the army said on Monday, as a fresh
curfew was clamped on the capital to thwart anti-king protests.

Sunday night's attack by the insurgents -- fighting to
overthrow the monarchy since 1996 -- was among the biggest in
nearly three weeks since a mass pro-democracy campaign erupted
across the impoverished Himalayan kingdom.

The attack may have been designed to increase pressure on
the king and engage security forces already struggling to quell
protests around the country, analysts said.

It took place in Chautara, about 60 miles east of
Kathmandu, when the rebels attacked a police station, district
administration office, a telecommunications tower and a jail in
the town, authorities said.

"We have found bodies of five Maoists in combat dress. One
soldier also died," an army officer told Reuters, adding that
four civilians were wounded in the crossfire.

"We have foiled their attempt to overrun the town," he

Chautara lies in the hills of Sindhupalchowk district, a
stronghold of the rebels.

A Reuters reporter on his way to the area said that the
rebels had blocked the road about 20 miles short of Chautara
town with fallen trees and boulders, apparently to prevent
troops from rushing in reinforcements.

District authorities had requested helicopter support and
reinforcements, one government official said, while some locals
near the area said the fighting could still be going on.

News of the attack came as an alliance of seven political
parties vowed to hold more anti-king protests on Monday for the
19th consecutive day, and bring hundreds of thousands of people
onto the streets of Kathmandu for a major rally on Tuesday.


"We are preparing for a massive rally, to fill the entire
ring road with people," Kashinath Adhikary, an official from
the Communist Party of Nepal (UML), the country's second
biggest political party, told Reuters.

He said top leaders would lead the demonstrations on
Tuesday for the first time since this round of protests began
on April 6.

Although the 27 km (17-mile) ring road lies within the
curfew zone, large stretches are in the hands of the
protesters, with burning logs and tires blocking access to
security forces.

Authorities clamped a fresh curfew on the capital from 11
a.m. until 6 p.m. in a bid to thwart Monday's planned protests.

On Friday King Gyanendra, who seized power last year,
offered to hand it over to the seven-party alliance, but his
offer was rejected by the parties and has failed to quell the

The country's main political parties entered a loose
alliance with Maoist rebels to end royal rule last November.

The rebels, who control vast swathes of the countryside,
seek to establish a communist republic in a conflict that has
cost more than 13,000 lives.

Maoists are demanding elections for a special assembly to
write a new constitution and curb the king's powers, a demand
which the political parties have now taken up.

Rejecting Gyanendra's offer to hand over power, party
leaders said they did not trust the king and want him to revive
parliament, dissolved in 2002.

That in turn would give them the authority to call
elections for an assembly to prepare a new constitution and
could pave the way for the Maoists to rejoin the mainstream.

The alliance has been agitating since April 6 to force
Gyanendra to restore multi-party democracy. At least 12 people
have been killed and thousands wounded in protests since then.