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Voters Go to Polls in Controversial Nepalese Ballot

Polls have closed in Nepal's controversial municipal elections, which King Gyanendra said would be the first step toward restoring democratic freedoms across the country. But voter turnout appeared to be low after political parties boycotted the polls and communist insurgents threatened to use violence to disrupt them.

Nepalese-born Bollywood actress Manisha Koirala, center, casts her vote during the municipal elections at Biratnagar, Nepal, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2006 A slow trickle of voters made their way to a polling station in Jawalakha, a district of the capital Kathmandu. Some say they turned out to show their support for King Gyanendra, who called the controversial election.

Seven mainstream political parties boycotted the poll. They say it is undemocratic since the king called the election after he took control of the government last year, dismissing parliament and arresting political opponents.

King Gyanendra said he had to act because the political parties failed to organize elections or to quell a Maoist insurgency.

This voter, a university student, says she agrees with the king. "We do not believe [the] political parties at all. They have been ruling for so many years, but as a result, only Maoist proliferation and everything [has taken place]. But finally, the king has done quite well."

The elections are for roughly 4,100 positions for mayors and municipal councils across Nepal - but more than half the openings had no candidates. While many local leaders are boycotting the election, others dropped out of races because of threats of violence.

The communist insurgents - who model their movement on the teachings of the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong - have waged a violent 10-year campaign to overturn Nepal's monarchy. More than 12000 people have died in the conflict. The group threatened to use violence to disrupt the election, although voting appeared to be relatively peaceful.

In central Kathmandu, scores of people could be found passing through historic Durbar Square, but few lined up at its polling station.

This man was among those refusing to participate.

He says, from what he has read in the media, the United States, United Kingdom and the United Nations have said the election is not really democratic. He says he believes in democracy, so he is not taking part.

Few were out on the streets of the capital after the government ordered its offices closed and banned most cars from the roads. Hundreds of security personnel also stood guard along the roads and at polling stations.

Many businesses also remain closed for the fourth day after threats by Maoist rebels, who ordered a seven-day strike around the country.

The rebels killed two and took 10 people hostage late Tuesday in the eastern town of Dhankuta. Also in the east, police arrested 30 anti-government protesters who had been preparing for a rally in the town of Biratnagar.

Election results are expected Thursday.