Nepal places top leaders can’t leave home

Nepal's royal government imposed a dawn-to-dusk curfew in the capital Friday, put top opposition leaders under house arrest and detained some 200 pro-democracy activists to derail plans for a massive protest against the king's seizure of absolute power nearly a year ago.

Troops surrounded the homes of at least five top politicians from the alliance of seven major political parties trying to organize the protest rally in Katmandu on Friday, while about 15,000 soldiers and police patrolled the streets of the capital and its suburb Lalitpur. Communist Party General Secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal said he was told he could not leave his home for 90 days and that he could receive no visitors. "We will continue our struggle against the regime despite all these attempts to quash peaceful protests," Nepal said in a telephone interview.

"The government imposing a curfew and restrictions shows that it is panicking," said another of the detained political leaders, Communist Party deputy chief Khadga Prasad Oli.

Also placed under house arrest were Girija Prasad Koirala, the Nepali Congress party president and a former prime minister; Bharat Mohan Adhikari, another Communist Party deputy leader; and Narayan Man Bijuchche of the Nepal Workers and Peasants' Party. Police meanwhile raided a building in east Katmandu, arresting about 200 activists suspected of planning a rally in violation of a curfew and a ban on demonstrations, the independent Kantipur Television said. The channel showed footage of activists locking themselves inside and chanting slogans. They were later escorted into vans and driven to detention centers.

The crackdown Friday followed a series of sweeping raids in the past few days in which security forces detained 78 other senior politicians, student leaders and rights activists, the National Human Rights Commission said in a statement.

The government imposed an 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. curfew Friday in Katmandu. The city was deserted after an initial burst of activity as residents rushed to buy groceries and drive to work before the curfew began. Nepal's seven main political parties called the rally for Friday to protest King Gyanendra's seizure of power last February after sacking an interim government.

The government said it must prevent the rally because it has information that communist rebels plan to use the event to stage attacks. The Maoist guerrillas have been fighting to set up a socialist government.

A top government official at the command center in Katmandu, who refused to be identified, said troops were guarding strategic areas and would ensure there are no disturbances. "We have to protect the people and maintain peace and tranquility," Home Minister Kamal Thapa said. Foreign governments, including the United States, have condemned the Nepal's efforts to stifle the protests.

"These arrests and harassment of peaceful democratic forces is a violation of their civil and political rights," the U.S. State Department said in Washington. "The United States calls on the King to release these activists." Authorities severed Internet services and both land line and mobile telephone services early Thursday, but later restored land lines and Internet communications, reports the AP. N.U.