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Last Updated: Saturday, 15 April 2006, 19:33 GMT 20:33 UK
Rallies in Nepal draw thousands
Pro-democracy protesters in Kathmandu, Nepal
The nationwide strike is in its tenth day
Thousands of people have taken part in pro-democracy marches in towns and cities across Nepal.

In the capital Kathmandu, where public gatherings are banned, police forcefully broke up a demonstration of 200 journalists.

The protest came as political parties opposed to King Gyanendra started to enforce a nationwide shutdown.

The king sacked the government and took absolute power 14 months ago, saying corruption was rampant.

The strike is in its 10th day and the capital's streets were largely free of vehicles, as young opposition activists set out to enforce a ban.

Nearly 20 journalists were arrested as they took part in a protest demanding the restoration of press freedom and the release of journalists.

Protests vow

Protest organisers told the Associated Press news agency at least seven people had been injured when police baton-charged the journalists.

"We condemn the crackdown on peaceful protests. We will continue to take out protests until all restrictions on the media are fully lifted," a spokesman for the Federation of Nepalese Journalists said.

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The opposition says it is incensed by a speech given on Friday by King Gyanendra, the world's only Hindu monarch.

The king said he would open up a dialogue with the seven-party opposition and hold elections, but the opposition said the king's offer contained nothing new and protests would continue.

It has been campaigning for the immediate restoration of democracy and return of representative government.

International criticism

On Friday, tens of thousands of people attended the funeral in the southern district of Chitwan of one of four people shot dead by police in the latest round of protests.

Journalists protesting in Kathmandu
Journalists defied the protest ban to stage a march

The police have been accused of using excessive force against the protesters.

On Thursday, they opened fire on a group of lawyers protesting against the king, wounding three of them.

King Gyanendra has said he was forced to seize power in February 2005 because of the growing Maoist insurgency that has killed more than 10,000 people since 1996.

He has faced severe international criticism, from countries including the US and Nepal's neighbour India.

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