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Nepal Strike Marked by Street Clashes, Arrests

Police and demonstrators have clashed in Nepal on the second day of a general strike, and hundreds of activists have been arrested. Opposition parties are spearheading the strike as part of a campaign to end King Gyanendra's rule and return democracy to the country.

Hundreds of students and political activists fought pitched battles with police Friday as they defied a ban on public rallies and held anti-monarchy marches in the capital, Kathmandu.

The demonstrators set fire to a post office, burned tires and hurled stones at security forces. Police used tear gas and batons to break up the rallies and arrested hundreds of activists. It was the third day of mass arrests in the capital.

In many neighborhoods protesters gathered to shout anti-monarchy slogans like "Down with Gyanendra!"

As alliance of seven opposition parties says the four-day strike is part of a "final push" to end the King Gyanendra's rule.

The king fired the government a year ago, and suspended many civil liberties. But in recent months there have been growing calls for restoration of democracy across the country.

Prakash Man Singh, a spokesman for the Nepali Congress Democratic Party, says the movement to end the king's rule is gaining momentum.

"We will be continuing our program until and unless the king steps down and until and unless the people's right is restored to the people. This demonstration will go on," he said.

King Gyanendra, speaking at a conference on Hinduism Friday, spoke of the need to establish permanent peace in the country. But he made no direct reference to the protests wracking the capital.

Several countries including the United States, India and Japan have condemned the crackdown on the pro-democracy protests and called on the Nepalese government to release the detained activists.

The royalist government said it banned the protests due to fears that Maoist rebels would incite violence. Hundreds of security personnel in riot gear are deployed in the capital.

But political parties say the clampdown by the government on the protests will not deter them from holding a mass rally on Saturday.