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Nepal Maoists Call General Strike to Mark Anniversary of Rebellion


Nepal's parliament has extended a state of emergency by three months to combat Maoist guerrillas. The extension came as Nepal's army says it has killed at least 48 guerrillas near an area in western Nepal where the Maoists struck several days ago, killing 137 government troops. The Maoists have called a general strike for Friday and Saturday to mark the sixth anniversary of the beginning of their fight to overthrow Nepal's constitutional monarchy.

Nepal's Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba traded votes into the night to get the two-thirds majority he needed to extend the state of emergency until late May.

The prime minister's Nepali Congress Party controls 112 seats in the 205-seat Lower House of parliament. The prime minister needed the support of the opposition United Marxist-Leninist Communist Party's 69 lawmakers to approve the measure.

Nepal's King Gyanendra approved the state of emergency last November as Maoist rebels stepped up their attacks. The measure allowed Nepal's army to be mobilized against the rebels for the first time in the conflict.

Violence is expected over the next two days as the Maoists put the emergency to the test with a general strike called to mark the anniversary of the beginning of their armed struggle six years ago.

While they agreed to back the prime minister, Nepal's communist lawmakers say they want election reforms and more money for social programs as well as a tougher laws to fight rampant corruption. MK Nepal, the general secretary of the United Marxist-Leninist Communist Party and the opposition leader in parliament, said only a negotiated settlement will defeat the Maoists. "Social, economic, political, administrative and judiciary reform is needed," he said, "so that a comprehensive package must be there. If we implement all these things then we think that the Maoists can be brought into the mainstream."

An estimated 2,500 people have died since the Maoists took up arms to overthrow Nepal's constitutional monarchy.

Over the past several days, nearly 200 people have died in a series of Maoist attacks and army and police counterattacks in western Nepal, the Maoist base. The Maoists, who get their inspiration from China's late revolutionary leader Mao Tse-tung and from Peru's Shining Path rebels, control large areas of the country. They have dealt a harsh blow to Nepal's economy, crippling development projects in many areas of the country and scaring away tourists.