Nepal's government vows to hold municipal elections

Nepal's royalist government vowed Friday to go forward with municipal polls next month despite a low turnout of candidates due to a boycott by the country's main political parties. The country's alliance of seven main parties calls the Feb. 5 elections a ploy to legitimize King Gyanendra's seizure of absolute power a year ago, saying he must restore full democracy before elections are held. Maoist rebels also have vowed to disrupt the polls.

Pro-democracy activists launched a general strike Thursday to protest the election plans, and clashed with police in violence that left dozens injured.

The elections are to fill 4,146 seats for mayor, deputy mayor and city council in 58 towns across the Himalayan nation. But Thursday's one-day registration for the polls drew only a total of 3,444 candidates, according to the Election Commission.

"The election will not be stopped and will be held on schedule," Election Commission official Dolakh Bahadur Gurung said.

News reports said the 3,444 candidates, most of them royalists, were contesting less than half the available seats, and that the remaining seats drew no candidates at all. The Election Commission said it would soon reopen the field for applications for the remaining seats. The government has called the municipal elections an initial step toward restoring democracy in Nepal, where there have been no elections in eight years. But the country's main political parties call them a sham, and demand that the king restore full democracy. Authorities arrested hundreds of the activists who participated in anti-government demonstrations across the Himalayan country on Thursday, and clashed with protesters in several towns, reports the AP. I.L.

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