Officials in Nepal say security forces have killed at least 10 Maoist rebels ahead of a general strike that began Saturday.

Witnesses say roads were deserted and businesses closed in large parts of the country as people stayed away for fear of attacks by the rebels, who called the 11-day stoppage.

Meanwhile, police have blamed the rebels for a series of bomb blasts in the western town of Nepalgunj that left at least 20 people wounded on Friday.

Maoist rebels have been fighting since 1996 to replace Nepal's monarchy with a communist government. They called the strike to protest King Gyanendra's seizure of absolute power two months ago.

On February first, the king dismissed the cabinet and had a number of political leaders arrested, saying the government was not doing enough to fight the rebels. Authorities released some of them Friday.

Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.