Maoist rebels attack Nepal town as King promises new elections

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The Independent Online

Maoist rebels attacked the town of Tansen yesterday on the anniversary of King Gyanendra's seizure of power, as pro-democracy protesters fought police in Kathmandu and other cities around the country.

In a televised national address, the King pledged to hold general elections within 15 months, but the turbulence continued.

At least 143 police officers are missing, including the most senior local official, after the night assault on Tansen, in the west of the country. In a statement to news organisations, the Maoist leader Prachanda said they had captured police and soldiers. Security forces found the bodies of 17 police officers and three soldiers. The Maoists also suffered casualties, but the number was not clear.

It was a stark demonstration of the Maoists' strength, hours before King Gyanendra was to defend his first year of absolute rule in the televised address. When he seized the autocratic powers of a medieval king and suspended basic human rights, he said it was necessary to quell the Maoist insurgency.

In Kathmandu, pro-democracy protesters from the seven opposition parties who have being staging daily demonstrations against his rule defied a ban on rallies. Chanting "Gyanendra, leave" and "Down with monarchy," the protesters raised black flags to mark the first anniversary of the palace coup. Police used water cannon then baton-charged them.