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Maoist Rebels in Nepal Extend Truce

Nepal's Maoist rebels have extended their unilateral cease-fire by one month, saying they hope this will help efforts to bring peace to the country. The announcement coincided with a massive pro-democracy demonstration in the Nepalese capital.

Maoist leader Prachanda says he is extending his party's unilateral truce, in response to requests from those who favor peace and a stable political situation in Nepal. In a statement Friday, Prachanda says the decision will help boost opposition to the autocratic regime of King Gyanendra. The three-month cease-fire was due to end at midnight Friday.

The announcement came as tens of thousands of people marched in the capital Kathmandu to pressure the King to restore democracy. It was one of the biggest pro-democracy rallies in the city since the King grabbed power earlier this year and limited democratic rights.

The mainstream Communist Party organized the anti-monarchy rally, but hundreds of students, lawyers and democracy activists joined in. They carried banners saying "Freedom is Our Right" and "We Want Democracy."

Yuvraj Ghimre, editor of Samay magazine in Kathmandu, says people want the King to use the opportunity provided by the rebel cease-fire to build a momentum towards peace.

"It's been generally welcomed, in fact welcomed by almost all the quarters," said Yuvraj Ghimre. "There is growing pressure on the government that it should reciprocate the ceasefire, and create an atmosphere for dialogue."

There have been growing calls both within the country and internationally for the King to begin negotiations with political parties, and for the rebels to end their insurgency.

On Thursday, U.N. human rights chief Louise Arbour warned that Nepal faced the threat of a full-scale armed conflict, and urged the authorities to join in the cease-fire with the Maoists.

The King dismissed Nepal's elected government in February, accusing it of failing to put down the Maoist insurgency. He arrested politicians, and restricted press freedom.

Analysts say the Maoists are using the cease-fire as a means to build trust with the country's disaffected political parties. Two weeks ago, the major parties and the rebels agreed to work together to end the King's direct rule.

The Maoist rebellion erupted in 1996 with the aim of establishing a communist system, but the rebels now say they are willing to join the political process if democracy is restored. The conflict has claimed more than 12,000 lives, although there has been reduction in violence since the truce began three months ago.