A general strike called by Maoist rebels has shutdown Nepal's major towns. Violence has escalated in the mountain kingdom since the rebels called off a ceasefire with the government last month. Schools, businesses and shops closed down and vehicles stayed off the roads in the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, and other towns on the first day of a three-day general strike.

Maoist rebels in the mountain kingdom ordered the strike. Such orders are usually obeyed because rebel guerrillas frequently retaliate against those who violate them.

The strike began a day after a bloody clash between the government and the troops killed at least 38 rebels and soldiers in a Maoist stronghold in Rolpa district, west of Kathmandu. It was the deadliest clash since the rebels pulled out of a ceasefire, and walked out of peace talks three weeks ago.

Since then, violence has returned to the country after seven months of peace. The rebels have been blamed for attacks on government buildings, bombings in Kathmandu and killing soldiers and political activists.

The Maoists have been fighting since 1996 to establish a communist republic in Nepal. They want the government to abolish the monarchy and rewrite the constitution. But at the last round of peace talks, the government refused to make any concessions on the existing constitution.

A senior political analyst at the Nepal Center for Contemporary Studies, Lok Raj Baral, says the peace process is not likely to resume soon because of the impasse between the two sides.

"This time it was categorically said that they cannot compromise on the issue of constitutional monarchy," he says. "Unless political parties themselves try to find a solution, and try to accommodate the Maoist demand like constitutional assembly it will be difficult for the time being to solve the problem."

The government also appears to have ruled out any peace overtures to the rebels for the time being. A government spokesman said earlier this week that talks will not be held unless the Maoists give up violence.

Authorities have stepped up security in official buildings in Kathmandu and other towns. Nighttime curfews have been imposed in several towns for fear of violence during the three-day strike.

The Maoist insurgency has left the country's economy in shambles, and led to the death of more than 7,600 people in the past seven years.