The government of Nepal has imposed a curfew on cities across the country after a recent rise in insurgent violence, and ahead of a major demonstration planned for later this week. Opposition political parties are protesting municipal elections scheduled for next month, which they call an attempt by the king to legitimize his takeover of government nearly a year ago.
Nepalese officials say security forces are now empowered to arrest anyone who violates the 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. curfew in Kathmandu and other cities across Nepal. Those arrested face a month in jail. Authorities are also authorized to shoot anyone in violation of the curfew who does not stop when ordered.
The government says it imposed the curfew and an indefinite ban on political rallies because it fears more attacks by communist insurgents.
But an alliance of seven main political parties says it will defy the ban on rallies and take to the streets Friday. Their target is municipal elections scheduled February 8, which they say will only serve to legitimize King Gyanendra's government.
Last year, the king dismissed parliament, arrested political opponents, censored the media and revoked civil liberties. He said the move was justified because the political parties had failed to stop the nine-year-old insurgency.
For months, the restrictions appeared to be limiting the ability of the king's opponents to organize any action. But Lok Raj Baral, executive chairman of the Nepal Center of Contemporary Studies, says Friday's planned rally is a sign that the parties are bouncing back. "Now that situation has totally changed," he said, "and people are taking interest in parties and meetings and rallies."
The insurgents, called Maoists because they draw their inspiration from the teachings of the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong, have waged a violent campaign to topple Nepal's monarchy. More than 12,000 people have died in the conflict.
Authorities say attacks by Maoists in the past three days have left at least 12 policemen dead.
The rebels are also threatening to disrupt the election, scaring even pro-government parties, and Baral says the election might have to be cancelled. "Even those parties are now saying that they're not likely to participate in these elections," he said, "because they say that the government cannot provide security to the people, to candidates."
King Gyanendra has called the municipal elections a step toward the restoration of democracy in Nepal. National parliamentary elections are scheduled for next year.