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ARKIB : 02/04/2004

About 30,000 participate in anti-king rally in Nepal

KATHMANDU April 1 - About 30,000 people rallied in the Nepali capital on Thursday to press King Gyanendra to fire a royalist prime minister and form an all-party government in the biggest anti-king rally in the Himalayan kingdom since 1990.

King Gyanendra, who took over after his brother was killed along with several other royals in a palace massacre in 2001, has been under attack since he dissolved Parliament nearly two years ago and sacked an elected prime minister in a row over elections.

``This is an important beginning to end the present autocratic system and restore democracy,'' Girija Prasad Koirala, chief of the centrist Nepali Congress party, told reporters as he squatted on a road with thousands of his supporters.

The Nepali Congress is one of five political parties that have vowed to continue protesting until the monarch appoints their nominee as prime minister or revives parliament.

Police with rattan sticks set up barbed wire roadblocks to stop protesters from marching on the king's palace, as demonstrators marched through the streets with placards saying: ``No to active monarchy''.

Officials said there was no violence. Protesters said they would defy government orders banning protests near the monarch's official residence and other key government building.

King Gyanendra, whose popularity has been sliding since he suspended democracy and assumed executive powers, is currently touring district capitals in west Nepal, meeting people in his latest public relation drive.

Gyanendra says he hopes to hold polls delayed since late 2002, by mid-April next year - but only if it is safe to do so.

Many doubt elections can ever be held until the Maoists fighting to topple the monarchy are brought back to the negotiating table, something most say rests in the king's hands.

A constitutional monarch by title, Gyanendra now effectively has full control of the government and the country until an election can be held and a new government formed.

The turmoil is the latest in Nepal beset by a bloody Maoist revolt that has killed more than 9,250 people since 1996 and hit the impoverished economy.

IN another development, The Kathmandu Post newspaper reported Thursday that the anti-government guerrillas abducted over 1,000 residents from seven villages in Nepal's far- western district of Bajura Wednesday afternoon.

Those abducted include teachers, students, employees and other villagers aged between 18 and 45, the independent English daily quoted some local residents as saying.

The seven villages, located about 700 km west of Kathmandu, have an estimated population of over 6,000.

"The rebels had been collecting data from the area a week ago announcing that a member from each family has to accompany them for their so-called public campaign," the locals said.

It is unclear where the captives have been taken, they added.

Nearly 10,000 Nepalese people have lost their lives since the anti-government insurgency broke out in the Himalayan kingdom in early 1996. - Reuters, Oana/Xinhua

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