Rebels block key highways in Nepal

Vehicles stayed off major roads across Nepal on Wednesday as a rebel blockade aimed at cutting off major cities from the rest of the country entered its second day, stranding hundreds of passengers at the capital's main bus station.

The government has vowed to foil the blockade, ordering troops to patrol key highways and positioning soldiers on armored cars with automatic weapons at checkpoints to escort cars, trucks and buses.

While most businesses across the Himalayan nation remained open, few vehicles were willing to defy the ban on travel imposed by the guerrillas, who have shot drivers and abducted passengers who didn't heed previous blockade calls.

Hundreds of passengers at the bus station in Katmandu were forced to cancel their trips, and while the Civil Aviation Authority said the country's airports were open and flights were on schedule, few Nepalese can afford an air ticket.

Meanwhile, police said Wednesday morning that only a few dozen vehicles had passed through the Thankot checkpoint, the capital's main gateway, despite government promises to compensate victims of rebel violence during the blockade.

At the Mugling checkpoint, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) west of Katmandu, police official Kedar Sapkota said only a few vehicles were seen on the Prithvi highway, the main route connecting the capital with the rest of the country.

The rebels had warned they would not allow any traffic on Nepal's major highways beginning Tuesday as part of their campaign to overthrow the royalist government and install a communist administration.

They did not say how long they would continue the blockade, which comes amid a feud in the rebels' ranks, reports the AP.

I.L.

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