Nepalese police kill protesters calling for democratic rule

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Anyone breaking the curfew would be shot on sight on sight, police had warned Opposition parties announced a one-day general strike and said protest rallies against the King would continue indefinitely.

For the first time, the protests are being openly supported by the Maoist rebels who have fought a 19-year civil war with the government, and control large areas of the country.

"We are not afraid of bullets," one of the protesters, Prajwal Sharma, said. "We have to get democracy at any cost and we will get it. People are taking over district towns and we will take over Kathmandu."

In the tourist resort town of Pokhara, thousands of protesters tried to storm a hospital where the body of a man killed when police opened fire on demonstrators was being held.

In the southern town of Bharatpur, 2,000 protesters attacked police with stones after a woman shot earlier died from her wounds. There were reports of growing anger in the town of Banepa, after a third protester was killed there.

In Kathmandu, police used tear-gas and fired rubber bullets to try to disperse hundreds of demonstrators defying the curfew. Protest-ers attacked government buildings and set up barricades of burning tyres. Tourists have been forced to remain in their hotels and allowed out only to travel to and from the airport.

The King was not in the capital yesterday. He has been on a tour of the provinces for weeks. But in his absence his grip on power looks increasingly threatened, with his security forces unable to quell the protests. Many protest-ers are openly calling for the monarchy to be abolished.

The protests were held this weekend to coincide with the 16th anniversary of the introduction of democracy in Nepal. Since his accession to the throne, King Gyanendra has systematically stripped away democracy. Last year he sacked the government and seized the absolute powers of a mediaeval king.

He suspended basic human rights, including free speech and freedom of thought, claiming that was necessary to defeat the Maoists but has failed to make inroads against them.