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Maoist Strike Paralyzes Nepal - 2004-09-28

In Nepal, a two-day strike called by Maoist rebels has shut down much of the country. A recent push to restart peace talks has failed.

Authorities say rebels are suspected of setting off a bomb in a suburb of the Nepalese capital Kathmandu early Tuesday as the latest strike called by the rebels took hold. Hours earlier, the guerrillas were blamed for setting fire to several vehicles on the highway leading to the capital.

The violence prompted most people to ignore a strong government appeal to defy the strike. Authorities put hundreds of troops on the streets, and promised to compensate anyone whose property was damaged by the rebels.

But despite assurances, most businesses, colleges and schools shut down. Traffic on the streets was thin.

Yuvraj Ghimre, editor of the weekly Samay magazine, says people observed the strike out of fear of the rebels rather than support for their cause. "They retaliate against the defiance at times, killing people and all that," he said. "That has injected a sense of fear and people do comply out of fear more than out of support to the cause that Maoists have advocated."

The rebels called the strike to protest the alleged killing of two of their leaders by security forces earlier this month.

The strike comes days after rebels rejected a new appeal from the government to resume negotiations. The Maoists say they are willing to join peace talks, but want authorities to first demonstrate their sincerity.

Mr. Ghimre says the rebels are concerned that an interim government appointed by King Gyanendra lacks the credibility to negotiate the core rebel demand of dismissing the monarchy. "If the government says that we are in a position, we have the status and the honesty to negotiate, I think Maoists would feel forced to come to the negotiating table," he said. "After all, there is international pressure for such a dialogue."

King Gyanendra has failed to hold fresh elections since he dismissed the popularly elected government two years ago. The rebels blame the king for scuttling two previous peace bids.

The eight-year insurgency that aims to turn Nepal into a communist country is becoming more deadly. The rebellion has claimed more than 9,000 lives, and has raised international concern about the future of democracy in the landlocked mountain kingdom.