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Demonstrators and Police Scuffle on Anniversary of Nepalese King's Takeover of Government


Police and protesters have scuffled in Nepal's capital, as authorities tried to prevent anti-government demonstrations marking the first anniversary of the takeover of power by the Nepalese king. King Gyanendra defended his actions and promised national elections, but violence by communist rebels - the king's primary reason for the takeover - continued in the countryside.

Protesters in Kathmandu shouted slogans Wednesday calling King Gyanendra a thief and demanding that he leave the country.

The demonstrators had gathered in small groups throughout the center of the Nepalese capital, to counter the heavy police presence arrayed against them. There were scuffles, and the police turned water cannon on one group that tried to cross an intersection approaching the royal palace.

Activists say they hope these protests will help fuel a popular movement against the king. One year ago, he dismissed parliament, arrested political opponents and suppressed the news media and civil liberties.

The king said he had to act because the country's political parties had failed to stop a violent communist insurgency.

But on Tuesday, at least 20 police and security personnel were killed in a clash with rebels in the town of Tansen, about 300 kilometers west of the capital. The insurgency is now in its 10th year.

Still, in a nationally-televised address Wednesday, King Gyanendra defended his takeover, saying it had led to greater security across the country. He also said he would push ahead with municipal elections planned for next week, and said those will pave the way for parliamentary elections next year.

The protesters seemed unimpressed by the speech. Subodh Pyakurel, chairman of the Informal Sector Service Center, a Nepalese human rights group, says the king wants to use the polls simply to consolidate his power.

"He will create a puppet group in the national assembly also," said Subodh Pyakurel. "That is his ill-intended plan."

Critics of the king say the local elections will be a farce, because the Maoists have threatened to prevent the polls from opening in many districts. There are not enough candidates to fill some local seats, and some candidates are living on military bases out of fear of attack by the rebels.

The insurgents' original aim was to overthrow the monarchy. Since the king's takeover, the rebels have created a loose alliance with the mainstream political parties, and say they will participate in elections once democratic freedoms are restored.

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