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Scribes battle Nepal police

April 19, 2004 14:15 IST

Over 1,000 people,  including four foreigners from India, Malaysia, the Philippines and South Korea, were arrested over the weekend as police used tear gas and lathi-charges to disperse  pro-democracy rallies across Kathmandu.

Protesters lobbed stones and bricks at police and paramilitary forces surrounding the palace of King Gyanendra on  Sunday. Two police trucks meant to ferry demonstators  to prisons were set ablaze and dozens of policemen and protesters were injured in clashes across colleges campuses and on roads leading to the palace.

One protest was led by  by former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, who was sacked by King Gyanedra in October 2002 for his inability to deal with the Maoist rebels.  Gyanendra appointed his own cabinet and has ruled by proxy since then.  Nearly 10,000 people have been killed since the Maoist insurgency against the monarchy began in 1996.  

As protests by the oppostion demanding the restoration of democracy gathered steam,  the government on April 8 banned  groups of more than five from the streets. King Gyanendra has pledged elections in 2005, but the opposition wants them to be held  under an all-party government.

The four arrested foreigners were delegates to a leftist conference and had participated in the protests, said organisers. The police declined comment.

Others arrested over the weekend include Taranath Dahal, president of  the Federation of Nepalese Journalists, Narayan Wagle, editor of  the daily Kantipur and  Kunda Dixit, editor, The Nepali Times. The Federation had called a massive rally Sunday against the government's crackdown on journalists covering the protests.  Several journalists were hurt and 70 of them arrested when the police tear-gassed and lathi-charged demonstrators across the capital.  

 While admitting that several journalists had  been arrested, the police denied that it was deliberately trying to target them. A senior officer also pointed out that the federation of journalists had officially endorsed and joined the opposition protests against the king on Friday.