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Opposition Strike Cripples Kathmandu for Second Day - 2004-05-12

A general strike spearheaded by political parties has brought Nepal to a virtual standstill for the second straight day.

Political activists burned tires in the streets of the capital Kathmandu, and attacked vehicles that defied the strike on Wednesday.

Hundreds of police guarded the capital as shops and businesses shut down in a two-day strike called by the Nepal's five political parties.

The strike was held despite last week's resignation of Nepal's royalist prime minister, Surya Bahadur Thapa. He stepped down after weeks of mass protests calling for the appointment of an all-party government in the country.

The move has failed to placate the political parties, who want King Gyanendra to appoint their nominee to replace Mr. Thapa.

Nepal has been without an elected government since October 2002, when King Gyanendra used his executive powers to replace an elected government with a pro-monarchy administration. The king says he acted because many politicians were corrupt and had been unable to stem an insurgency.

The king has called for a dialogue with some of the political parties. But independent political analyst Lok Raj Baral says they are insisting that the king negotiates with all five parties. "These party leaders, they want to meet together just to put pressure on him to accept their demands for the restoration of full-fledged democracy in the country," he said.

The political stalemate has raised tensions in a country that is already struggling with a violent Maoist rebellion.

Officials say the rebels killed four soldiers and two police officers in an attack on a security patrol in western Nepal on Tuesday.

Earlier this week, three major donor agencies from Britain, Holland and Germany suspended projects in western Nepal, saying their staff had faced intimidation and extortion by the rebels. About 50,000 people in the remote countryside who were working on projects that give them food in return for work will be affected by that decision.

Last week, Nepal's international donors urged the government to restore democracy and resolve the long-running insurgency.