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Last Updated: Monday, 6 February 2006, 07:32 GMT
Nepal hit by Maoist rebel strike
Policeman in Kathmandu
Security is tight in Kathmandu
A policeman has been killed and four others injured in a landmine blast in south-western Nepal on the second day of a shutdown ordered by Maoist rebels.

Separately, the rebels freed a senior government official and four others whom they had abducted last week.

The rebels have called the week-long strike as part of a campaign to disrupt local elections due on Wednesday.

The rebels and the opposition say the poll is an attempt to entrench King Gyanendra's seizure of power in 2005.

I would not have minded closing for a day, but for seven days it is very difficult
Kathamandu cafe owner Jeevan Giri

The latest violence took place when policemen were trying to clear a roadblock on a key highway in the district of Kanchanpur, some 600km (375 miles) south-west of Kathmandu.

On Saturday, the rebels freed 21 soldiers and policemen seized after heavy clashes last week in western Palpa district. Three people now remain in rebel captivity.

Fear of reprisal

Normal life remains disrupted across Nepal on day two of the seven-day shutdown, one of the longest ordered by the rebels.

Maoists in rural Nepal
The Maoists recently abandoned a truce

Reports say the shutdown is being observed thoroughly in the volatile towns of Nepalganj in the west and Biratnagar in the east.

In the capital, Kathmandu, schools and most business on main roads are closed, although many smaller shops in backstreets are operating.

Normally busy streets have few vehicles on them, but a sizeable number of motor-cycles and private taxis are running, many with their number plates covered up.

The rebels have warned of violent reprisals against anyone breaking the strike. Such threats in the past have ensured that shutdowns are generally observed.

The Maoists have also threatened to kill anyone participating in Wednesday's polls.

Security is tight in major towns and the capital, Kathmandu.

"I would not have minded closing for a day, but for seven days it is very difficult. How am I supposed to survive?" coffee shop owner Jeevan Giri asked the AFP news agency.

The authorities have urged people to carry identification cards while travelling.

Earlier people were asked to avoid pillion riding on motorcycles in Kathmandu until the elections are over.

The authorities say the rebels have used motorcycles to launch attacks on individuals.

Attacks

At least two candidates have been killed, while a third has been wounded in recent attacks blamed on the rebels.

Last month the Maoists ended a unilateral ceasefire.

The authorities say the municipal elections will pave the way for parliamentary elections next year.

Local and national elections had been due three years ago.

King Gyanendra seized power on 1 February, 2005, promising to crush the Maoist revolt.

He has been under pressure domestically and internationally to return the kingdom to democracy.


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