Nepal's New Government Clamps Down

Nepal's (search) new royal government on Monday banned criticism of the country's security forces, strengthening a clampdown on dissent the king says is necessary to end a bloody communist insurgency.

The government also banned political activities by public servants and authorized the seizure of private property but eased a ban on gatherings by private citizens.

People may hold workshops, meetings and conferences providing they get permission first and the gatherings do not disturb law and order or undermine "the kingdom's sovereignty and integrity," the government said in a statement aired on state-run media.

The crackdown began last week when King Gyanendra (search) threw out the previous leaders and imposed emergency rule. Dozens of opposition politicians have been detained or put under house arrest. Privately run newscasts have been taken off the air and newspapers are now forbidden to print anything critical of the government.

World leaders have denounced the measures as a shameless power grab and a setback for democracy.

The new decree banned any public comments "made directly or indirectly" about the security forces "that is likely to have negative impact on their morale." Violators could be placed under arrest, the government said.

It said the security forces could monitor telephones, radio, fax and e-mail and other forms of electronic communication and block them when necessary. It gave no elaboration on when private property could be seized by the government.

Gyanendra has said he dismissed former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba (search) because Deuba failed to end the insurgency or to conduct parliamentary elections.

Nepal has been without a working legislature for nearly three years since Gyanendra fired Deuba for the first time in 2002. The move set off huge street protests, and the king reinstated Deuba last year.

The rebels, who say they are inspired by the late Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, have been trying since 1996 to overthrow the government and establish a socialist state. They now control much of the countryside, in a conflict that has claimed more than 10,000 lives.