Page last updated at 11:29 GMT, Wednesday, 9 April 2008 12:29 UK

Seven dead in Nepal poll violence

Maoists campaign in Katmandu on 6 April
Campaigning was due to have ended on Monday

At least six Maoist activists in Nepal have been shot dead by the security forces in the west of the country, local officials say.

Maoist sources said another 15 people were injured, in what was the worst single incident of violence so far related to Thursday's elections.

The incident happened after a scuffle between the Maoists and youths employed by a local candidate of a rival party.

The king meanwhile has urged everyone to vote in the poll.

In a message he addressed to "beloved countrymen" on Wednesday, King Gyanendra said that all adult citizens should exercise their democratic right in a free and fair environment.

"It has always been our desire to ensure that under no circumstances are the nation's existence, independence and integrity compromised, and to build a prosperous and peaceful nation through a democratic polity in keeping with the verdict of the sovereign people," the king said.

"While upholding mutual harmony and unity during the elections to the constituent assembly being held on 10 April 2008, we call upon all adult citizens to exercise their democratic right in a free and fair environment."

In separate violence on Tuesday, police killed a protester during riots in the south-east.

The unrest was triggered by the fatal shooting of a Communist election candidate, Rishi Raj Sharma, by unknown gunmen near the town of Nepalgunj.

Youths detained

Reports say that those Maoists killed on Tuesday night in the west were shot by the Armed Police Force, a paramilitary unit closely involved in election security.

Nepal has a population of 26.4 million
It contains eight of the world's 14 highest mountains
It was formerly the world's last Hindu kingdom
Eighty percent of Nepalis are Hindus
Nearly one third of Nepalese live on less than $1 a day
More than 80% live off the land

The local Maoist leader said the shootings happened after his party activists detained more than 40 youths who, he alleged, were being used by a local candidate of the Nepali Congress party for electoral malpractice, reports the BBC's Charles Haviland in Kathmandu.

But reports quote the police as saying the Maoists tried to attack a vehicle being used by the Congress man. They confirmed to the BBC that there had been six deaths but then went out of contact.

The head of the UN mission in Nepal, Ian Martin, said he was deeply shocked over the separate killings.

He said those forces under suspicion of carrying out them out should be suspended during investigations.

Security is tight ahead of the vote with tens of thousands of police officers deployed across the country.

Political parties were meant to stop all campaigning, speeches and rallies on Monday night but correspondents say it has been common in the past for parties to defy the rules.

Pivotal vote

It is the first election since 1999 and follows the Maoists' decision to quit their armed struggle against Nepal's government in 2006.

King  Gyanendra
The monarchy is likely to be abolished after the poll

The election is for an assembly which will re-write the constitution and the new body is likely to abolish the monarchy.

King Gyanendra seized absolute power in 2005 but was forced to give up his authoritarian rule the following year after weeks of pro-democracy protests.

He has since lost all his powers and his command of the army.

Former US president Jimmy Carter is in Nepal - as one of numerous foreign election observers - from his Atlanta-based Carter Center.

Around 17.6 million people are eligible to vote on Thursday.

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Nepalis return to their birth districts to vote

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