Nepal's royalist government yesterday rounded up activists and cut mobile phone services in a major crackdown ahead of a banned anti-king rally in the capital, officials and politicians said.
At least 15 leaders of the Nepal Communist Party (United Marxist Leninist) were detained from their homes before dawn yesterday, said Kashinath Adhikari, secretary at the NCP's (UML) central office.
"Four standing committee members and eight central committee members were arrested in Kathmandu and three were arrested in [neighboring] Lalitpur," Adhikari said.
A leading human rights group, the Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC), said around 100 people, including prominent human rights activists, were detained ahead of today's rally.
Phone lines cut
Mobile phone operators, meanwhile, said they had cut off lines early yesterday in accordance with a government order. Shrish Shumshere Rana, Minister for Information and Communications, confirmed the shutdown.
"The government is heightening its preparation for agitation, as the Home Ministry has said that there is a high possibility of violence during the demonstration on Friday," the minister said.
He declined to say how long mobile telephone coverage would be cut off.
"We will [look at] the situation and act accordingly," Rana said.
The capital is already under a late-night curfew, imposed by the royalist government in the wake of deadly attacks here by Maoist rebels at the weekend.
The government has also banned all public meetings and protests, and specifically outlawed today's protest, saying Maoists would infiltrate it and cause violence.
Organizers from seven opposition parties ousted by King Gyanendra nearly a year ago said they would defy the ban and go ahead with their mass protest against municipal elections called by the monarch for Feb. 8.
The parties have said the polls will be a sham as there has been no free political activity in the Himalayan kingdom since Gyanendra seized power on Feb. 1 last year.
The king said the government's failure to stem the decade-long Maoist insurgency was the reason for his power grab.
All telephone coverage as well as Internet services were cut during the takeover, which was also marked by mass arrests.
Today's rally is expected to draw thousands of supporters opposed to Gyanendra's seizure of power and his proposal for local elections next month.
A rally held by the seven opposition parties in the southern town of Janakpur on Jan. 14 attracted tens of thousands of protesters according to eyewitness reports, and organizers hope that even more will turn out today.
A call made by the home ministry on Monday for opposition parties to engage in a dialogue with the royal government was dismissed by the politicians.
Facing international calls to restore democracy, Gyanendra has outlined a roadmap to peace, under which local elections in 58 municipalities will be held on Feb. 8, and national elections to be held sometime before April next year.
Opposition parties plan to boycott the polls and Maoists have threatened to disrupt them.