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Traffic Resumes Along Nepal's Highways As Rebels Call Off Blockade


In Nepal, traffic has resumed along the country's highways after Maoist rebels ended a crippling blockade. But the Himalayan country's royalist administration will face a series of new protests aimed at toppling the government.

Buses packed with passengers and trucks loaded with supplies returned to Nepal's highways on Monday after Maoist rebels called off a blockade that had cut off the capital Kathmandu for six days.

The rebels ended their blockade of the capital and other towns following an appeal from seven political parties, which said the blockade was hurting ordinary people. Prices of essential commodities had soared and shortages had intensified. But more protests aimed at toppling King Gyanendra's government have already been announced - opposition political parties have called for a four-day general strike early next month.

The Maoists have endorsed the call for the protests after reaching what they say is a "new understanding with political parties to intensify the joint movement for democracy."

The two sides forged a loose alliance last November to fight to end King Gyanendra's rule. That deal to join forces against the king was firmed up following a recent meeting in India between top rebels and political party leaders.

The head of Kathmandu's Center for Contemporary Studies, Lok Raj Baral, says the latest agreement between the rebels and the political opposition to work together is significant.

"They [Maoists] want to be closer to the political parties because they are also trying to join the mainstream politics, multiparty system, democracy, etc. Without Maoists also we cannot think of any democratic development because they have been able to show their strength across the country," said Baral. "The Maoists are a force to reckon with."

The Maoists have indicated they are willing to give up violence and join multiparty politics if their demand for a new constitution for the country is met.

But the king has refused to relinquish power, which he seized last year after promising to stem the decade-long Maoist insurgency.

The rebellion continues to rage and violence wracks the country almost daily. In the latest incident reported by authorities, at least one rebel and several soldiers were killed in a gun battle Monday in Kavre district, east of Kathmandu. More than 12,000 people have been killed in violence related to the insurgency over the past decade.