The Nepal government has halted a major pro-democracy rally by imposing a curfew and ordering the police to shoot or arrest violators on sight. The rally had been planned as the high point of a four-day nationwide strike being held to pressure King Gyanendra to give up direct rule.
Armed soldiers patrolled the streets of Kathmandu Saturday as the government announced a daytime curfew and ordered security forces to shoot or arrest anyone defying a ban on public rallies. The authorities also cut mobile phone links.
A few scattered clashes between demonstrators and police were reported in capital city in the morning, but the streets emptied soon after the curfew came into effect.
Reports said security forces opened fire on protesters in the town of Pokhara, 200 kilometers west of Kathmandu, and eye-witnesses were quoted as saying at least one person was killed.
The tough measures were taken to avert a mass rally planned by an alliance of seven opposition parties on Saturday - the third day of a four-day anti-monarchy strike.
The strike has seen a near-total shutdown and small, spontaneous demonstrations in the streets of Kathmandu since Thursday. Hundreds of activists have been arrested.
Opposition parties condemned the latest government crackdown. Minendra Bijal, a senior leader of the Nepali Congress Democratic Party, says the curfew will not prevent a mass movement from building against King Gyanendra's rule.
"They [people] want democracy and peace and they want it through non-violent means. He [king] will be pressurized and he will have to respond to it. With the people's voice and the people's movement generating momentum, he has absolutely no option," said Minendra Bijal.
King Gyanendra seized power in February last year, accusing the government of failing to quell a communist insurgency that has raged for a decade. The curtailment of many civil liberties by his government has provoked wide anger in the country, and international calls for a restoration of democracy.
Saturday marked the 16th anniversary of the day Nepal's former monarch, King Birendra, lifted a ban on political parties in response to a mass popular movement. Opposition parties had hoped to recreate the same mood with a mass rally.
Meanwhile, violence was reported outside the capital. Authorities said hundreds of Maoist rebels attacked security bases in the western towns of Taulihawa and Butwal. Police say several guerrillas and soldiers were killed in the fighting.
The Maoists are backing the strike by the political parties in Kathmandu, but violent attacks blamed on the rebels have continued in other parts of the country this week.