KATMANDU, Nepal – Security forces fired on anti-monarch demonstrators in separate marches Saturday, killing one and wounding five as the government escalated its crackdown on those seeking a return of democracy.
Thousands of activists rampaged in the southern town of Bharatpur, burning government offices and forcing riot police to retreat from the town square before officers opened fire, a government official said on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.
Police fired bullets and tear gas to disperse the protesters, who are demanding that King Gyanendra restore democracy in this Himalayan kingdom. Three women bystanders were injured, the official said.
The protest at Bharatpur, about 90 miles southwest of Katmandu, was the biggest in the ongoing four-day anti-monarchy protests nationwide by the country's main political parties.
In the resort town of Pokhara, protester Gangadhar Baral said he was among a group of people pelting stones at security forces when the soldiers shot at them.
"We were protesting, and some of us were throwing stones at the soldiers. Suddenly, the soldiers fired shots at us. One of my friends was killed instantly," Baral said at the hospital in Pokhara, about 125 miles west of Katmandu. A hospital doctor confirmed the death.
In Katmandu, the government crushed opposition plans for a massive anti-monarchy rally with a daylong curfew and shoot-on-sight orders, emptying the roads and sending demonstrators indoors after two days of violent protests.
Streets quickly emptied, and soldiers patrolled the streets in vans, pickup trucks and armored cars. Tourists were only allowed to travel to or from the airport.
A key protest organizer objected to the curfew.
"The imposition of a curfew is unnecessary, illegal and illogical. There is no ground for this," said Khadga Prasad Oli, deputy leader of the Communist Party of Nepal.
The rally in the capital was intended to be the high point of a four-day general strike called by Nepal's seven main opposition parties to pressure Gyanendra to restore democracy.
Gyanendra seized power in February last year, claiming the government failed to quell a growing communist insurgency. Some 13,000 people have been killed since the Maoists launched their insurgency in 1996.
Authorities have cracked down forcefully on the protests. On Friday, police battled protesters in the narrow alleys of Katmandu, using batons and tear gas to beat back stone-throwing students. The number of pro-democracy advocates arrested swelled to 751, a government minister said.
Gyanendra called for calm in a speech broadcast live Friday on national radio and television.
The rebels had promised not to wage attacks in Katmandu during the strike but have stepped up their attacks elsewhere. Hundreds of communist rebels fought a fierce battle against government troops in two southwestern towns, and at least nine guerrillas and three security personnel were killed, officials said.
The strike, which runs through Sunday, shut down public transport, shops and schools.