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Nepal Releases Former Prime Minister, Other Political Detainees

Nepal's royalist government has freed the former prime minister and 18 other political detainees nearly six weeks after King Gyanendra took direct power. The move comes amid mounting international pressure to restore civil liberties in the country.

Officials in Nepal say the government has lifted the house arrest of former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and more than a dozen other political detainees Friday.

Mr. Deuba and his cabinet were detained after King Gyanendra on February 1 dismissed his government for political infighting and failing to control a bloody communist rebellion. The king took direct power, imposed emergency rule and arrested scores of opposition leaders, journalists and rights activists.

The king was condemned internationally and urged to restore democracy as quickly as possible. India and Britain went further and suspended military aid to Nepal.

Brahma Chellaney, a political analyst with New Delhi's Center for Policy Research, says the king's actions are only likely to encourage more political deadlock and fuel the rebels' cause.

"Certainly the democratic, political leaders in Nepal are not a threat to national security,” he said. “They are not a threat to law and order and to detain them is not in the interests of the king and the objectives he has in mind."

Mr. Deuba's release came hours after major political parties in the country announced plans to intensify protests against the king's suspension of democracy.

Nepal's Congress has urged its members to come out of hiding and step up their defiance of the emergency rule by holding a campaign of peaceful demonstrations starting next week. The Communist Party of Nepal says it is also planning to step up anti-government protests.

Political leaders have not been successful in mobilizing street protests since the king took over power and deployed the military to enforce a ban on anti-government campaigns.