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Nepalese Government Enforces Curfew

The government of Nepal has imposed a dawn to dusk curfew across the capital and put opposition leaders under house arrest to stop an anti-government rally from taking place. The crackdown comes almost a year after the king took full control of the government.

Police and soldiers were posted every few hundred meters in central Kathmandu Friday, as troops in armored personnel carriers with mounted machine guns patrolled the streets of the virtually empty capital to enforce the all-day curfew.

In other parts of the city, troops surrounded the homes of prominent opposition leaders, who had been trying to organize a massive rally against the government of King Gyanendra.

The politicians are the latest among scores of opposition members to be detained since the government launched its latest crackdown Thursday.

Leaders of several political parties had planned the demonstration to protest against King Gyanendra's plans to hold local elections next month, a move they say is intended to legitimize his seizure of power last year.

On February 1, King Gyanendra dismissed parliament, arrested opposition leaders, and imposed restrictions on the media and civil liberties. He justified his actions by saying Nepal's squabbling political parties had failed to stop a communist insurgency wracking the countryside.

The move was widely condemned by the international community. The United States, the United Kingdom and India suspended military aid to Nepal.

But Suhas Chakma, the director of the Asian Center for Human Rights says the international community did not go far enough. He is calling on major powers to impose travel restrictions on the king and members of his government.

"This government survives, all said and done, with foreign aid," Chakma said. " So if there is a policy decision taken by the government to impose visa restrictions and other concurrent measures are taken, I am sure the change will come through."

King Gyanendra says the municipal council elections, planned for February 8, will pave the way for the restoration of democracy in Nepal. He has promised to hold parliamentary elections next year.

Prior to the king's takeover, the tiny Himalayan kingdom had been locked in a three-way power struggle between political parties, the king, and communist insurgents fighting to overthrow the monarchy.

Now, the insurgents, called Maoists, and the opposition parties have formed a loose alliance to call for the restoration of democracy. But the Maoists are still threatening to use violence against government forces in order to disrupt next month's elections.