Call for Dialogue by Nepal's King Rejected

Nepal's political opposition on Friday rejected the king's plea for dialogue and vowed to continue pro-democracy protests that have filled the streets to demand the monarch's ouster.

A few small rallies were reported in the capital, Katmandu, and other parts of the country, but no major protests took place, mainly because Friday is a new year holiday. Most Nepalese spend the day with their family and visit temples.

About 1,000 people demonstrated peacefully in the resort town of Pokhara, about 125 miles west of Katmandu. The police did not intervene.

King Gyanendra earlier in the day broke his silence after more than a week of protests, in which four people have died, and called for dialogue with the country's seven major political parties. He also said Nepal should hold a general election, although he did not specify a date.

He did not mention the opposition protests or the communist insurgency that has left nearly 13,000 people dead in the past decade.

"The king has failed to address the protests and the movement for democracy. He is only using the offer for dialogue to try prolong his rule," said Krishna Sitaula of the Nepali Congress, the country's largest party. "We will intensify the protests until we get rid of the autocratic monarchy."

Amrit Bohara, leader of the Communist Party of Nepal, said that, "People are pouring to the streets against his rule and he does not seem to care."

In a new year's address, Gyanendra called for "the active participation of all political parties committed to peace and democracy."

The king's call for elections is in line with a plan for a return to democracy he announced shortly after seizing power in February 2005.

Nepal's opposition -- along with a well-armed communist insurgency -- argue that any elections held under Gyanendra's rule would be neither free nor fair.

Gyanendra said that he took control of the country to stamp out political corruption and end the communist insurgency. Many of Nepal's 27 million people at first welcomed the move. But the insurgency has since intensified and the economy has worsened, fueling broad discontent.

Nepal's seven main political parties launched the latest wave of protests and a general strike on April 6 to demand that the king restore full democracy.

Gyanendra's roadmap has been roundly rejected by his opponents, who demand that a special assembly be convened to rewrite the constitution and limit his role.

"We are deciding on how to step up our protests including strictly enforcing the general strike imposed since last week," Sitaula said.

Government officials said they were prepared to deal with the threats by the political parties.

"We will react as we have to," Information Minister Shrish Sumshere said about opposition plans to extend the strike.

Thousands of activists, some chanting "Hang King Gyanendra!" have joined rallies demanding the restoration of democracy.

Many demonstrations deteriorated into bloody clashes between stone-throwing protesters and security forces, who have responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and, in some cases, live ammunition.

In response to Gyanendra's speech, communist rebel leader Prachanda said the king "has shown the height of insensitivity toward the problems faced by the country and the people."

"It has made it clear there is no other alternative than to establish a republic by sweeping away the monarchy," he said.

The U.N. has condemned Nepalese security for excessive use of force during the demonstrations.

The authorities have begun easing restrictions in the past two days, and on Thursday lifted a night curfew in Katmandu and restored cell phone service, which was cut seven days earlier to keep protests from being organized. The government lifted a daytime curfew Wednesday.