In Nepal, at least nine policemen have been killed in an attack blamed on Maoist rebels. The attacks happened as political protests intensified in the mountain kingdom.
Officials say hundreds of Maoist rebels struck a police post in Yadukuwa village, about three hundred kilometers southeast of the capital Kathmandu. Several policemen were killed and many are missing.
The gun battle began late Sunday and raged for several hours. Police reinforcements have been rushed to the area.
It is the second serious clash between the rebels and security forces in the past two weeks. In the last attack, 250 people, mostly rebels, were killed when hundreds of Maoists attacked a district capital.
An independent political analyst, Lok Raj Baral, says the Maoists seem to be getting more aggressive, even as the government is claiming the army has the rebellion under control. "The government was trying to belittle the Maoist movement, and it was claiming that it has been able to control to a large extent the Maoist activities," he says. "Just to counter that the Maoists have increased [attacks]."
The rebels walked out of peace talks and called off a ceasefire last August.
More than 9,000 people have been killed since they launched their struggle in 1996 to overthrow the monarchy and establish communism in Nepal.
Meanwhile, the government is also confronting huge protests by Nepal's main political parties, which are demanding the restoration of democratic rule.
King Gyanendra dismissed an elected government a year and a half ago, replacing it with a pro-monarchy administration. Since last Thursday, tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators have been daily packing the streets near the King's palace, calling for fresh parliamentary elections.
Political editor of the Kantipur newspaper, Yuvraj Ghimre, says the situation is volatile, and dozens of activists have been injured as police used sticks and fired rounds of tear gas to disperse the protesters. "It seems there has been a greater participation, but they are also turning violent. And the state is also equally retaliatory, because there has been large scale application of force by the security forces."
The Maoist rebellion and the recent political protests have raised international concern about the future of democracy in the tiny Himalayan kingdom.