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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 February 2006, 12:21 GMT
Nepal king appeals for dialogue
Pro-democracy rally in Kathmandu
Several thousand rallied in Kathmandu on Sunday
King Gyanendra of Nepal has called on the mainstream opposition political parties in the country to enter into dialogue and promote democracy.

It is the first such appeal from the king since he seized direct control of the country a year ago.

But his call to restart "the stalled democratic process" was dismissed as "an artificial appeal" by a leading opposition leader.

Separately, least 3,000 protesters marched in the capital, Kathmandu.

"Let us listen to others, put across our views, do away with discord and enhance mutual understanding," King Gyanendra said.

He called on "all willing political parties to come forth to fully activate, at the earliest, the stalled democratic process in the greater interest of the nation".

'Final days'

The king's statement was issued on National Democracy Day which commemorates the Shah dynasty's regaining of power from the Rana oligarchy in 1951.

King Gyanendra
The king is under pressure at home and abroad
The king, who seized absolute power in February 2005, has come under increasing pressure at home and abroad to restore political freedoms.

US Ambassador to Nepal James Moriarty on Wednesday said the deepening rift between the king and the country's political parties was only benefiting the Maoist rebels.

The rebels have called for a general strike from 3 April, preceded by blockades on the country's major roads from mid-March.

"The regime is counting its final days," said a rebel statement.

"Time has come to make the final strike on the regime that has been isolated and defamed."

'Vague' appeal

Protesters at Sunday's rally, organised by the country's seven mainstream political parties, were unimpressed by the king's statement.

"If he is really serious about resolving the problems then he should have directly approached us and not made such a vague appeal," said Khadga Prasad Oli, deputy leader of the Communist Party of Nepal.

"We can't hold talks in a vacuum," said Sushil Koirala of the Nepali Congress Party.

The demonstrators waved banners and chanted "We want democracy", as hundreds of riot police stood by.

"We will fight until we have fully restored democracy and the rights of the Nepalese people," Leelamani Pokhral, the leader of the People's Front Party, told the crowd.

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