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Last Updated: Sunday, 29 January 2006, 09:31 GMT
Nepal candidates abandon election
Nearly a quarter of all seats have no candidate
Up to 600 candidates for local polls in Nepal have withdrawn their nominations, according to election officials.

The main reason appears to be concerns over security after Maoist guerrillas issued new threats against those standing, say BBC correspondents.

The withdrawals mean there is no one contesting more than 1,000 out of 4,146 seats in the 8 February poll.

Hundreds of candidates have been placed in safe houses across the country to protect them from the rebels.

In the southern town of Janakpurdham, more than 70 candidates are being kept in a government training centre.

The elections will be held in 36 municipalities only, in the other 22 there will be no contest because there are not enough candidates
Tejmuni Bajracharya, election spokesman

There have been reports from across Nepal of candidates withdrawing under pressure from distraught wives and other family members.

There have also been accounts of people saying they were tricked or even forced into standing by officials.

Of seats set aside for women, more than 60% have no candidate, said election officials.

In many districts, there is just one candidate standing unopposed and others will be completely uncontested.

"The elections will be held in 36 municipalities only, in the other 22 there will be no contest because there are not enough candidates," said election spokesman Tejmuni Bajracharya.

Opposition boycott

King Gyanendra's government says these elections are a stage in a road map to democracy after he seized absolute power in February 2005.

But the main opposition parties are boycotting them and last week Maoists shot dead one candidate and kidnapped another.

They say the polls are aimed at legitimising what they call an illegitimate royal regime.

A rebel leader in Kathmandu warned anyone standing of what he called "very serious consequences".

The king has pledged to hold parliamentary elections by the middle of 2007.

In the latest violence, 11 rebels and two policemen were killed in overnight in clashes between Maoists and security forces in the eastern district, Bhojpur.

Violence has escalated across Nepal after the rebels ended a four-month unilateral ceasefire earlier this month.

More than 12,000 people have died in the 10-year Maoist insurgency aimed at replacing the monarchy with a communist republic.

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