Nepal's royal government has arrested dozens of student leaders and political activists in a pre-emptive move to thwart protests against the king's seizure of power, student leaders said yesterday.
Police on Thursday broke up meetings at college campuses and hostels, detaining student activists as they held organizing meetings for the protests on yesterday -- the 15th anniversary of mass pro-democracy demonstrations that ended autocratic rule by Nepal's kings, said student leader Gagan Thapa.
Police refused to say how many people were arrested, but acknowledged they have orders to break the protests.
King Gyanendra took absolute power, imposed a state of emergency and suspended civil liberties on Feb. 1 -- a move immediately condemned by several nations including the US, India and Britain.
Since then, the government has aggressively sought to quash any popular dissent. Many politicians are still in custody or have been driven underground. Sporadic rallies to demand the return of democracy have failed to attract large numbers and have been quickly broken up by police.
Information Minister Tanka Dhakal yesterday said, "There is not going to be any protest. The people want peace and that is what the government is committed provide."
Fighting between government troops and the rebels have escalated and the army has been conducting several operations to flush the guerrillas from their hideouts. The army in a statement said it killed at least eight rebels on Thursday in different parts of the country.
Nepalese army soldiers repelled a major rebel assault on one of their bases in the country's mountainous northwest, killing at least 18 communist guerrillas, the army said yesterday.
The Royal Nepalese Army headquarters in Katmandu said hundreds of guerrillas attacked the security base at Khara village, about 400km west of Katmandu.
The battle began around 6 pm local time on Thursday and lasted for more than 12 hours.
The officials said 18 rebel bodies had been recovered and were searching the area for the attackers. The officials said they expected the final rebel toll to be higer. Eight soldiers were also wounded in the fighting. They were airlifted out of the area and were being treated at hospitals in nearby towns.
Reinforcement were being sent by helicopter and soldiers were combing the area looking for more attackers, the army said. Government forces have been confined mainly to the base in the area -- which is considered a stronghold of the rebels.
The battle was the fiercest since in weeks and coincides with an 11-day general strike called by the rebels last weekend to protest King Gyanendra's power grab.
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