Nepal opposition calls to disrupt election by strike

Nepal's one-day registration for municipal elections drew only a trickle of candidates Thursday as a general strike by dissidents to protest plans for the polls left the capital nearly deserted. The country's Maoist rebels and a coalition of the seven top political parties oppose the royalist government's plans for local elections on Feb. 8, arguing they will legitimize King Gyanendra's seizure of direct control over the central government a year ago.

The political parties, which plan to boycott the elections, called a general strike for Thursday, and the rebels have warned candidates they could face violence if they register for the polls. In Katmandu, a dozen people filed for candidacy during the first three hours after Nepal's Elections Commission opened the field for nominations under tight security. Three other candidates had filed their nominations in Lalitpur, a Katmandu suburb.

The strike calls prompted schools across this Himalayan nation to close. In the capital, Katmandu, security forces were posted at all major intersections. Streets were deserted, with no private vehicles on the roads. Police in blue riot stood guard at buildings and prominent places.

Police detained about 100 protesters who had organized small-scale rallies in various cities on Wednesday, ahead of the strike. The Election Commission said candidates will be able to file nomination papers during office hours Thursday in all the 58 cities and towns where polls are scheduled.

Prachanda Shrestha, a candidate from the independent Save the Nation party, said he had filed his papers for the mayor's post. "I feel safe enough to run for office. Why should I be afraid to do something good for the nation?" he said soon after he filed his nomination form.

Maoist rebels, fighting for nearly a decade for a communist state, have warned against showing up to file nominations. They are known to beat and even kill those who defy their orders.

Already, the rebels have been blamed for the death of a politician from a pro-king party killed last week in South Nepal. Bijaya Lal Das, a local leader of the Nepal Sadbhawana Party, which supports King Gyanendra, had announced he would be a candidate for mayor of Janakpur, about 300 kilometers (190 miles) southeast of Katmandu.

Das is believed to be the first candidate to be killed by the rebels. Political activists have been organizing protest rallies and holding demonstrations to seek people's support in for the boycott and their campaign to force the monarch to give up absolute power.

The government says the municipal elections, the first step in restoring democracy, will be followed by parliamentary elections within a couple of years. No date has been set. Nepal's communist rebels, who say they are inspired by Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong, want to replace Nepal's constitutional monarchy with a socialist government. More than 12,000 people have been killed in the decade-long insurgency, reports the AP. N.U.

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