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General Strike, Clashes Paralyze Life in Katmandu

In Nepal, an opposition-sponsored general strike has paralyzed life in Kathmandu and led to clashes between police and demonstrators. Schools and businesses were shut, and public transport stayed off the streets as thousands of activists from five political parties marched down the streets of Kathmandu. Police used tear gas, batons, and water canons to disperse the demonstrators. Dozens of activists were briefly detained and minor injuries were reported.

It was the first strike called by an alliance of five opposition political parties since King Gyanendra dismissed an elected government a year and a half ago and installed pro-monarchy administrations.

Opposition parties want the King to restore the government he dismissed in October 2002, or allow an all-party government that would include their nominees.

They are also protesting a recent crackdown by the government on pro-democracy demonstrations.

The government banned public protests last month after Kathmandu and several towns in the country were rocked by student protests demanding general elections and the return of democracy. Several students defying those bans have been detained.

Yuvraj Ghimre, political editor with Nepal's Kantipur newspaper, says people across the country want the restoration of an elected government.

"There is a genuine feeling ... that democracy has to be there, but it has to be effective, and the government has to be transparent and there should not be corruption," said Mr. Ghimre.

King Gyanendra says he supports multi-party democracy. But he has offered no time frame for holding elections.

Nepal became a multi-party democracy in 1990 with the king as its constitutional head. But a series of weak and ineffective governments failed to address a nearly eight-year Maoist insurgency, which left more than 8,000 people dead.