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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 June 2006, 12:11 GMT 13:11 UK
Nepalese rebels freed from jail
Maoists are released from Nakhu jail, in Patan, a suburb of Kathmandu
Freed rebels were greeted by cheering crowds in Kathmandu
Nepal's government has begun releasing Maoist rebels detained under a controversial anti-terror law.

The move follows Monday's decision to withdraw charges against them and not to renew the legislation.

The law was aimed at Maoist rebels who previous governments said were terrorists.

Nepal's new government began peace talks with rebels after mass protests forced King Gyanendra to hand power to an opposition coalition in April.

'Long live the republic!'

More than 60 rebels walked free from a high-security prison in Kathmandu's suburbs, Reuters news agency reported.

Soldiers on watch in Nepal
The law gave sweeping powers to the security forces

They were greeted by crowds of friends and relatives carrying garlands.

"Down with the monarchy, long live the republic!" they shouted, raising clenched fists in a Maoist salute.

Home Ministry spokesman Banan Prasad Naupani told the BBC that the prisoners - most of them lower-ranking members of the Maoist movement - were being freed from jails across the country.

He said the exact number of detainees being freed was not yet clear.

The BBC's Sushil Sharma in Kathmandu says more than 300 rebels are expected to benefit from the government move.

Their release is taking place ahead of a second round of talks which the government and rebels say will start shortly.

About 700 Maoist prisoners - including senior leaders held under other laws - were freed ahead of the first round of talks last month.

Rights abuses

The controversial anti-terrorism law was introduced eight years ago.

Successive governments renewed it with additional stringent provisions, despite opposition from human rights groups.

It gave sweeping search powers to the security forces and allowed them to arrest anyone on suspicion of links with the rebels. Detainees could be held for up to a year without trial.

Nepal's authorities were criticised for misusing the law and both sides were accused of committing human rights abuses.

The authorities say the law is no longer needed after the new coalition government stopped calling the rebels terrorists and the two sides began peace talks.

More than 13,000 people have been killed in 10 years of insurgency, the authorities say.




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