Nepali authorities protect candidates from militant attacks

Nepali authorities have asked election candidates to move into police compounds to protect them from Maoist rebels suspected of killing at least one candidate in their efforts to disrupt the municipal polls. Several hopefuls running for seats in Katmandu and surrounding suburbs in the Feb. 8 elections have taken up the offer and moved into fortified camps throughout the capital, government and police officials said on condition of anonymity.

The officials, who would not give their names due to the sensitivity of the subject, said they had instructions to protect all candidates, including posting policemen at homes of those who do not move into police camps. Some candidates have refused all protection.

The country's Maoist rebels have joined with an alliance of the country's main political parties in opposing the municipal elections, saying they are a ploy by the royalist government to validate King Gyanendra's seizure of absolute power a year ago. The rebels have threatened "severe action" against candidates unless they withdraw from the race by Wednesday, and in recent days have been blamed for the slaying of one candidate, the abduction of another and a brazen raid on the home of a mayoral candidate that left him injured.

Some candidates said they would continue to campaign in the open. "I still have not taken the protection from the government and I have not felt the need to," said Rajaram Shrestha, a mayoral candidate in Katmandu.

Another mayoral candidate, Krishna Shahi, claimed some people tried to plant a suspicious package at his house but were chased away by neighbors. "I have refused the offer to have policemen outside my doors," Shahi said.

Dal Bahadur Rai, a mayoral candidate in a Katmandu suburb, was in critical condition after he was shot twice by gunmen who broke into his house and then opened fire on Monday, said Roshan Karki, assistant minister for local development. Karki said Rai had declined to have police protection. "We had repeatedly offered to provide security but he refused," she said, reports the AP. I.L.

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