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Maoists'  Strike Hits Kathmandu, Causing Complete Shutdown - 2002-12-29

In Nepal, security has been increased, as a two day strike called by supporters of Maoist rebels gets underway.

Shops and businesses shut down, and transport stayed off the roads in the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, on the first day of a two day strike, called by three organizations that support the Maoist guerrillas.

The shutdown was closed to protest the sacking of Nepal's elected government by King Gyanendra, who took power after the death of his brother, Birendra, in a palace massacre last year. The strike coincided with the birthday of former King Birendra.

The strike takes place just days after Kathmandu was hit by a string of bomb blasts that injured nearly a dozen people. Among the victims were five schoolchildren, who were wounded during an explosion Friday evening in their hostel on the city's outskirts. Earlier, several people were injured when a bomb exploded in a commercial building. Authorities blamed the violence on Maoist rebels.

Maoist guerrillas often call strikes to put the spotlight on their campaign to replace the country's constitutional monarchy with a communist republic. Fear of retaliation by the rebels usually ensures a complete shutdown.

The Maoist rebellion has become bloodier since the rebels walked out of peace talks last year.

In recent weeks, the rebels have expressed willingness to resume a dialogue, but have set several tough conditions. The rebels say they want a round table conference that would include all political parties, as well as polls to choose a constituent assembly that would draft a new constitution.

Lok Raj Baral, a professor of political science at Tribhuvan University, says the government is unlikely to meet these demands.

"The agenda is not clear, on what core issues are rebels going to discuss," he said. "They want to have constituent assembly, or a round table conference, or abolition of monarchy. These are the basic demands, and perhaps, no present government can negotiate on these basic demands."

The army has been battling the rebels since last year. Violence continues unabated. More than 7000 people have been killed in the insurgency since it flared in 1996. Many of them have died in the past year. The rebellion has frightened away tourists, hit the nation's economy, and worried the international community, which sees it as a threat to the country's constitutional monarchy.