Maoist rebels yesterday cut off routes into the Nepalese capital Kathmandu in their first blockade of the city since they launched their insurgency to overthrow the constitutional monarchy eight years ago. \nNormally congested roads into the ancient temple-studded city of around 1.5 million people were mostly empty. But the capital's airport was functioning normally and residents and tourists were moving around the city. \n"No vehicle owners are prepared to put their vehicles into service because of fears of being attacked by the Maoists," said Hira Udas, chief of the Nepal Transport Entrepreneurs Federation. "Security forces may protect vehicles for one or two days but after some time the Maoists take punitive action for defying their orders." \nThe Maoists, who have been fighting to overthrow the constitutional monarchy and install a communist republic, said they would keep up the blockade of the hill-ringed city until their demands were met. \n"We are going to impose an effective blockade from today [yesterday] that will continue indefinitely," Subash Tang, a district Maoist leader, said in a statement to local media. \nThe blockade was seen by analysts as a show of strength by the rebels who have become increasingly bold in attacking Kathmandu. On Monday, they bombed a luxury hotel in the city but caused no injuries. \nThe rebels already control vast areas of countryside in the deeply poor country sandwiched between India and China. \nTour operators feared the new unrest could hurt the flow of visitors to the tourism-dependent nation. Foreign bookings have already fallen since Japan, the US, Britain, France, Germany and other Western nations advised citizens to avoid Nepal earlier this month. \nNepalese Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba met with the National Security Council, police and army officials to discuss how to break the blockade. \nThe Maoists are seeking release of jailed militants, details of whereabouts of missing activists and a probe into alleged custodial killings of rebels by security forces. They also want the government to no longer call them terrorists. \nPolice at a checkpoint through which all vehicles pass to the capital said traffic had virtually halted. But army vehicles escorted 28 passenger and goods vehicles from Kathmandu to the southern border area near India and would take the vehicles back to the city with provisions, an army official said. \n"This process will continue so the supply of goods isn't affected," he said. \nKathmandu has a 10-week stockpile of vital items such as food and fuel, the Nepal Consumers Forum said on Tuesday. \n"The Maoist transport blockade in three districts has halted 2,000 vehicles coming and going out of Kathmandu every day," Udas said. \nThe blockade follows the suspension on Tuesday of operations by many top firms after the Maoists accused them of exploiting their employees. Most of the 24 firms have links with the royal family or multinationals. \nPeace talks fell apart last August after the government rejected a rebel call for an assembly to draft a new constitution and decide the monarch's fate. \nThe move to cut off Kathmandu follows a series of blockades of towns and villages in which they have attacked vehicles disobeying their orders. \nThe Maoists have been ruthless as they have taken control of much of rural Nepal, but attacks in Kathmandu and on tourist sites have been rare.
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