Nepal rebels attack town as curfew imposed for fifth day

Nepalese security forces fought back a communist rebel attack Monday as officials placed the capital under curfew for the fifth straight day in an effort to shut down mass anti-monarchy protests.

Five Maoist rebels and a government soldier died in fighting after the guerrillas attacked security bases and government buildings overnight in the north-central town of Chautara, sparking gunbattles that lasted into Monday morning, said a statement from Defense Ministry Spokesman Indiresh Dahal.

He said the army flew four civilians, injured in the attack in the remote mountain town, to a hospital in the capital, Katmandu hospital.

The assailants knocked down an antenna tower, severing the town's communications, and raided an area army base, police post, district administration office and jail, Dahal said.

He said that the rebels also bombed the local hospital, post office and education office, and that soldiers were combing the area for the attackers.

The Maoists have seized control of much of Nepal's countryside in a 10-year communist anti-monarchist insurgency that has killed about 13,000 people.

In the past three weeks protests have rocked Katmandu, and police have clashed with demonstrators demanding King Gyanendra relinquish the absolute power he seized 14 months ago. The communist rebels and Nepal's main political parties are both backing the movement.

On Monday, the U.S. State Dept. ordered all non-emergency embassy staff and family members to leave Nepal, according to an embassy spokesman, Robert Hugins. He said about half of the staff would leave.

Small-scale protests were reported on Katmandu's outskirts Monday, despite an 11 a.m.-6 p.m. curfew in Katmandu and the suburb of Lalitpur.

Police clubbed protesters and fired tear gas in Katmandu's northern Maharajgunj neighborhood, Nepal FM News radio station reported.

Smaller protests broke out on the capital's northwestern edge.

"We are preparing for tomorrow's (Tuesday's) rally. We are going door-to-door informing people of the program so they will be ready," said Nepali Congress Party activist Pradeep Dhakal.

Opposition parties said they expected hundreds of thousands at the massive protest planned for Tuesday on the ring road that circles Katmandu. It wasn't clear whether curfew would be imposed there Tuesday.

Police and protesters clashed there Sunday, leaving several demonstrators injured. Security forces have killed at least 14 protesters since the strike began.

Nearly 250 protesters were wounded in clashes with security forces Saturday, when they came within a kilometer (a half-mile) of the royal palace.

The protests have intensified since Friday, when Gyanendra offered to let the seven-party opposition alliance nominate a prime minister and form a government, the AP says.

Opposition leaders and the communist rebels say the king's offer fell short of a key demand _ the return of Parliament and creation of a special assembly to write a new constitution that could limit or eliminate the monarchy.

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