KATMANDU, Nepal – Thousands of emboldened protesters defied curfews in Nepal on Sunday, clashing with police on the fourth day of increasingly violent demonstrations to demand a return to democracy in Himalayan kingdom.
Security forces fired at anti-monarchy demonstrators in the eastern part of the country, killing at least one man, as the main opposition parties said a nationwide general strike and protests would continue "indefinitely."
The death in Banepa, 20 miles east of the capital, is the third in the ongoing demonstrations to pressure King Gyanendra to give up absolute rule. The shooting occurred as a large crowd of protesters shouted slogans and hurled stones at security forces, a local official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Representatives of the seven main opposition parties met in Katmandu amid a police crackdown and curfew.
"The nationwide general strike and protests will continue until further notice," the statement said.
Police fired tear gas at stone-throwing youths in Nepal's capital Sunday, where at least 1,000 people assembled in one neighborhood, said a witness who declined to be named for fear of police reprisal. Police also fired rubber bullets, Private Kantipur Television reported, showing footage that included at least one injured protester.
Another group tried to march into the city from a suburb but scuffled with police who managed to block them off, said a police official at the scene who asked not to be named because of the political climate.
Witnesses and Nepali media reported protests in dozens of other towns and cities.
On Saturday, security forces killed at least two protesters and wounded five in provincial cities. Saturday was the 16th anniversary of the introduction of democracy in Nepal, an experiment that Gyanendra abruptly ended last year when he reclaimed absolute power for the royal dynasty.
At the time, he said the move was needed to bring order to a chaotic and corrupt political scene and to end a communist insurgency that has killed nearly 13,000 people in the past decade.
Many Nepalis at first welcomed the king's move. But the insurgency since has worsened and the economy has faltered, fueling the discontent that has been on display in recent days as thousands of workers, professionals and business people have for the first time joined students and political activists at protests.
More than 2,000 people protested in the southern town of Bharatpur on Sunday, angered by the death of demonstrator shot by security forces a day earlier. On Saturday, protesters set fire to at least a half-dozen government offices and forced riot police to retreat from the town's main square.
The government extended the daylong curfew Sunday to the resort town of Pokhara, where the king was vacationing and clashes erupted a day earlier.
Gangadhar Baral said he was among a group of protesters throwing stones at security forces when soldiers opened fire in Pokhara on Saturday, killing one of his friends. A doctor reached by phone at the city's Gandaki Hospital confirmed the death and injuries but declined to give his name because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
The curfew began at 10 a.m. Saturday and officials said it would stay in effect through Sunday. They repeated warnings on state television and radio that violators would be shot.
Sunday was the last day of a four-day general strike called by an alliance of the country's seven main political parties and backed by the rebels.
"I have not opened my shop in four days and if this continues, I and my family will have no money left," said Ramesh Shrestha, a shop owner in Katmandu. "Both the government and the protesters are fighting for their own reasons but it is the common people who are suffering."
The government on Sunday said rebels planned to attack the capital, despite their promises to refrain from doing so.
"We are not going to allow massive public gatherings in the city as it has been verified that there is Maoist infiltration," Information Minister Shrish Shumshere Rana told The Associated Press.
Ram Sharan Mahat, a senior leader of Nepali Congress, the country's largest party, dismissed the claim.
"This is just an excuse. They are trying to tar this uprising with the Maoist brush, and to question its legitimacy," Mahat said.
Apart from Saturday's shootings, the government has arrested more than 800 people since Wednesday. Police were seen Saturday detaining another 20 rights activists for defying the curfew.
The crackdown on the opposition has prompted condemnations from the United States, Japan, the European Union and neighboring India, all of which have been critical of the king's power grab.
For the first time, the parties' protest has the backing of the communist rebels, with whom they formed a loose alliance in December.