Anti-Royal Protests Continue to Grip Nepal

Nepal's political turmoil is deepening, with pro-democracy protests continuing to grip the country. The political opposition has vowed to intensify its campaign to end King Gyanendra's direct rule.

The Nepali authorities extended a daytime curfew in Kathmandu and surrounding towns for a third day, in a bid to halt the wave of anti-monarch protests erupting across the country. But that did not deter thousands of protesters from rallying in parts of the capital and other towns, chanting anti-royal slogans. Police used batons and tear gas to break up several of the demonstrations.

The protests were to have ended Sunday, the last day of a four-day nationwide strike called by the political opposition to pressure King Gyanendra into restoring democratic government. Now, the opposition says, it is extending the protests indefinitely.

Yuvraj Ghimire, editor of the Samay magazine in Kathmandu, says the situation in the country is volatile.

"There was massive and willful defiance of the curfew imposed by the government. That was an assertion of the people for democracy," said Ghimire. "The king has not responded to all that is happening. If he decides to go repressive, there would be willful defiance by the people."

The government says Maoist rebels waging a decade-long insurgency have infiltrated the rallies, and has warned it will get tougher with demonstrators. The opposition parties behind the protests accuse the royalist government of trying to legitimize its oppression of their peaceful movement.

The government has cut mobile phone services, warned violators they could be shot, and arrested hundreds of political activists and leaders in recent days. In some places, security forces opened fire over the weekend on demonstrators, and three people were reported killed. The crackdown has provoked widespread international criticism.

Meanwhile, the rebels have threatened to block highways and destroy statues of the king. They have entered into a loose alliance with the political parties to end the king's rule, and are supporting the protests.

The recent wave of protests constitute the most intense opposition King Gyanendra has faced since he fired an elected government a little more than a year ago, saying it had failed to crush the insurgency.