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Nepal Extends Detention of Top Leaders

Nepal's royalist government has extended the detention of political leaders who were arrested following last month's takeover by King Gyanendra. The move comes despite calls by the international community to restore democracy.

Officials in Kathmandu say five of the country's top political leaders will be kept under house arrest for two more months. They include the heads of mainstream political parties and two former prime ministers.

The order comes just days ahead of a plan by five major political parties to organize their first joint protest in Kathmandu against King Gyanendra's takeover of power on February 1.

Political analysts say the detention was extended to prevent the politicians from rallying opposition to the king.

So far, authorities have foiled all attempts in the country to organize demonstrations against the king.

Nepal's opposition leadership, dozens of party activists, student leaders, journalists and trade union have either been arrested or have gone into hiding since the king dismissed the government and imposed emergency rule.

Brahma Chellaney at New Delhi's independent Center for Policy Research says the extended detention of the opposition shows that the king is ignoring international pressure to release political prisoners and restore civil liberties.

"The message that the king is giving is that he is determined to stay the course, determined to rule by decree without an elected government in office," said Brahma Chellaney. "One way to reach out to [the] international community would be to release political prisoners and allow press freedom without actually installing an elected government."

Earlier in the week, the government tightened censorship rules, forbidding any independent reporting of a Maoist insurgency that has been raging in the country since 1996.

The king says he seized power because the government had failed to end the rebellion. He has vowed to crush the insurgency.

But in the past month, little appears to have changed although accurate information is not available because of the strict censorship rules. Last month, the rebels organized a two-week road blockade disrupting supplies to much of the country. There have also been several reports of fighting between soldiers and rebels, who control vast stretches of the countryside.

Nepal's closest allies, such as India, Britain and the United States, are worried that the king's actions will not help to end the insurgency, but strengthen support for the rebels and make a Maoist takeover easier.