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Nepal Maoists Launch Deadly Assaults - 2002-11-15

Authorities in Nepal say Maoist rebels have killed more than 50 police and army personnel in two separate attacks. The attacks come on the heels of a nationwide, three-day strike called by the Maoists.

Maoist rebels overran a police post in Gorkha district, about 150 kilometers northwest of Kathmandu, and attacked Jumla town about 600 kilometers west of the capital.

Authorities say the assaults began late Thursday and fighting continued on Friday. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of rebels were involved in the assaults in some of the heaviest fighting seen in recent weeks. Heavy casualties are reported on both sides, but more detailed information has been impossible to obtain.

The fighting took place just hours after Maoist leader Prachanda made a surprise offer to negotiate with the government. The offer came at the conclusion of a three-day nationwide strike called by the Maoists that largely shut down the country.

Government officials say they have been working on a plan to establish contact with the Maoists who want to abolish Nepal's constitutional monarchy and establish a communist state.

Political violence and uncertainty in Nepal has grown worse since Nepal's King Gyanendra dismissed the government of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and appointed Lok Bahadur Chand, a staunch monarchist as the country's new prime minister.

King Gyanendra defended his action saying Prime Minister Deuba was incompetent but there were widespread protests from political parties in parliament who called the King's move unconstitutional.

Prime Minister Chand has vowed to resume peace talks with the Maoists and bring an end to Nepal's six year-old civil war. But since he took office last month, there have been several major bombings in Kathmandu and scattered Maoist attacks across the country. More than 7,000 people, mostly Maoists, have been killed in the fighting.

More than half of those killed have died since King Gyanendra declared a state of emergency last year.