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Last Updated: Friday, 23 March 2007, 17:26 GMT
Maoists rally over Nepal killings
Mourners pay their respects during a mass cremation in Kathmandu
Funeral pyres blazed with atheist Maoists in attendance
Maoist former rebels in Nepal have rallied in Kathmandu in protest at the killing of their members in the south.

Several thousand attended the memorial service. The bodies of 25 people killed in Wednesday's fighting with regional rights activists were on display.

At least 27 people died around the town of Gaur where a curfew has been lifted. Maoists say most were their supporters.

The bloodshed is the worst Nepal has seen since a truce last year which led to peace accords with the Maoists.

More than 40 others were injured in the clashes, many critically.

'Heinous massacre'

Most of the bodies were cremated at the Pashupatinath temple, one of the holiest shrines in Hinduism.

About a dozen bodies were recovered from one spot. They had their heads broken after being hit
Police official Kuber Kadayat

The BBC's Charles Haviland in Kathmandu says after priests conducted the last rites, the dusk sky was filled with smoke and lit by flames as 14 funeral pyres blazed.

Four other bodies were taken to Muslim and Buddhist funeral grounds while seven unidentified bodies remained in hospital.

Earlier, the 25 shrouded bodies had lain in crude wooden boxes at an open theatre.

Top Maoist leaders draped them with red flags and garlands while youths in red bandanas shuffled forward with flowers for weeping relatives, our correspondent says.

Maoist deputy leader, Baburam Bhattarai, said that all the 25 or more dead people were Maoists and that the killings had been a conspiracy.

Police say violence broke out after a row over a meeting ground in Gaur, a centre of anti-Maoist sentiment where some of the former rebels have themselves used violence recently.

People injured in the clash between the former Maoists and Madheshis
The sides blame each other for the violence in Gaur

Two or three hundred Maoists tried to use the same venue as 10 times that number of activists from a group called the Madheshi Janadhikar Forum (MJF), which campaigns for the rights of southern Nepalese.

Mr Bhattarai said that if the authorities did not ban the MJF, the Maoists would have to "retaliate".

A leader of the Madheshi, Kishor Kumar Biswas, said on Thursday that most of those killed or injured were local people.

Tensions

The United Nations says most of those killed were beaten to death with bamboo poles.

Eyewitnesses say some were chased to a nearby village, their heads smashed in and some of the bodies burnt.

The UN, which is helping with the peace process, has condemned the killings but has also criticised Maoist fighters for leaving their camps in large numbers to protest against the deaths, in breach of ceasefire agreements.

Maoists and protesters seeking more rights for the Madheshi people in the south have spent months at loggerheads.

Groups speaking for Madheshis, or southern Nepalese, have been demonstrating since December for greater rights under the country's new constitution.

The Maoists are bitterly opposed to most of these organisations, saying they themselves are the best guarantors of regional and ethnic rights.


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