Nepal Forces Fire on Pro-Democracy Protesters

Security forces in a southern town shot into a crowd marching on the main highway to protest Nepal's royal dictatorship Monday, killing one and wounding five, a local administrator said.

The shooting was the fifth time in recent days that security forces have opened fire on demonstrators demanding that King Gyanendra restore parliament. Five people have been killed.

Few details were available about the bloodshed in Nijgadh, which is about 75 miles south of Katmandu, the capital of this Himalayan nation. The local official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters, said the wounded were in serious condition.

The official said the Nijgadh area is a stronghold of Maoist rebels who have been fighting since 1996 for a communist state and have lately have thrown their support behind the protest campaign begun April 6 by seven major opposition parties.

Demonstrations have spread to most cities and towns in Nepal. A general strike has kept most trucks off the roads, leaving Katmandu low on fresh food and causing the government to ration fuel.

The king was scheduled to meet with former prime ministers at the royal palace Monday to discuss the crisis, independent Kantipur Television said. The meetings came a day after the king talked with ambassadors of the United States, India and China.

Opposition parties involved in the protests said they had not been invited by the king.

"We have not been asked by the palace, and even if we are called for the meeting we will not go," said Krishna Sitaula, a senior member of one party, Nepali Congress.

The government expanded a ban on demonstrations in Katmandu to include the outskirts of the capital and the suburb of Lalitpur, where many rallies have been held. But thousands defied the order and took to the streets in the suburban areas Monday.

There was a heavy police presence but no reports of clashes. Earlier, police fired several rounds of tear gas and beat up protesters at the tourist hub of Thamel in Katmandu.

With many markets closed by the lack of truck deliveries, the government said Monday that it was deploying armed escorts for trucks carrying food into the capital and offering cash incentives to drivers who defy the strike in Katmandu.

Officials also forced several Katmandu service stations to open and distribute rationed gasoline and diesel fuel.

Some 50,000 people joined demonstrations across Nepal on Sunday in the biggest outpouring since opponents of Gyanendra's seizure of power began a campaign of protests and a nationwide strike April 6.

The biggest rallies took place in two neighborhoods outside Katmandu. One attracted 15,000 people and was peaceful. Another, in the Balkhu neighborhood, degenerated into running clashes between protesters and police.

About 10,000 people marched along the ring road that skirts Katmandu for hours but then riot police massed to stop them. The protesters charged the officers, who responded with a volley of tear gas and rubber bullets.

The opposition said 13 people were wounded by rubber bullets and dozens more were injured by police clubs. About 30 people were arrested.

In Thamel, the capital's ordinarily throbbing tourist hub, dozens of shop owners, hotel workers and trekking guides burned tires and taunted police along streets lined with shuttered stores that usually sell trinkets, fabric and pirated DVDs.

"The king is killing our work. We have not enough customers," said C.V. Shresthra, a 36-year-old trekking guide.

Many of the capital's 1.5 million residents struggled to find fresh vegetables, gasoline and other goods.

"I pushed my motorcycle all the way here. I have no choice but to wait for hours to get petrol," said Sundar Thapa as he lined up at one of the few open gas stations.

The prices for what few vegetables could be found had risen fivefold since the start of the strike, and prices for chicken and mutton doubled.

"We have not had a single truck come in the past 11 days," said Raj Maharjan, a vegetable vendor at the city's Baneswor market.

Gyanendra seized power in February 2005, saying he needed control to restore political order and end the communist insurgency that has killed nearly 13,000 people in the past decade.

The protests over the past two weeks have been the worst since Gyanendra's move, and the opposition sought to increase the pressure Sunday by appealing to Nepalese to stop paying taxes, custom duties, interest on loans from state banks and even their utilities.

They also urged the estimated 1.6 million Nepalese working abroad to stop sending money home. The $1.2 billion in remittances have in large part kept the economy afloat.