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Nepal's King Demands Maoist Rebels Return to Peace Talks


His first day on the job, Nepal's Prime Minister Dan Bahadur Shahi says the Maoist rebels need to join peace talks or the newly appointed government may take "other steps" against them. He did not elaborate.

King Gyanendra took full control of the government Tuesday, declaring a state of emergency, arresting political opponents, shutting down free media, and deploying troops to the streets of the capital. Communications to Kathmandu have also been cut off.

The king blamed that government for failing to end the Maoist insurgency. He appointed a new cabinet under his leadership, which he says will restore democracy within three years.

Human-rights workers fear the current situation will result in a further crackdown on civil rights.

"I think he [the king] will launch military attack on everybody - and of course the pretext will be that he is fighting with the Maoists," said Basil Fernando, the executive director of the Asian Human Rights Commission.

Nepal's government has been virtually paralyzed for months, as a three-way power struggle between the king, political party leaders, and Maoist insurgents dragged on.

The Maoists have been fighting to overthrow the monarchy since 1996. Peace talks between them and the government collapsed in 2001. The group loosely models its movement on the teachings of the late Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong.

The rebels declared a three-day nationwide strike on Thursday. But with no communications in the capital and no free media, few people were aware of the call.

Last year, Nepal's political turmoil spilled into the streets of the capital with months of at times violent protests by students and activists calling for democratic reform. Mr. Fernando says there will likely be another explosion of anger at the king's takeover.

"At the moment the people are very confused," he said. There are protests here and there like at the universities, but they have put heavy armed guards at the universities. So people will need time. But definitely there will be reaction."

The international community has been largely united in condemning King Gyanendra's actions. On Wednesday, India announced it would not take part in a regional economic summit, which King Gyanendra was also expected to attend. Analysts say India did not want to lend legitimacy to the king's actions, by appearing alongside of him at the summit.

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