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Nepal rebels call for national strike

KATHMANDU, Nepal -- Nepal's communist insurgents called yesterday for an indefinite nationwide strike as the country's major political parties prepared for a weekend protest amid growing anger over the king's rule.

The strike is to start April 3 and follow about three weeks of blockades of roads to the capital, Kathmandu, and other main cities and towns, a statement by rebel leaders Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai said.

The statement called for schools and businesses to be forced to close and transportation to be disrupted.

More than 10,000 protesters were expected to join a rally today to mark Democracy Day, which celebrates a popular 1980s movement that forced the previous king to establish a multiparty democracy, said Shobhakar Parajuli, a spokesman for the Nepali Congress party.

The rally would be the biggest since the current king, Gyanendra, seized power last February and declared a state of emergency, saying it would help quell the insurgency and clean up government corruption.

The strike call and planned rally follow a series of recent political setbacks to King Gyanendra's rule.

On Friday, the Supreme Court ordered the release of 37 political detainees, including senior party officials. Judges said they could find no reason for the detentions and ordered the government to immediately free them.

The court last week released several other detainees and scrapped the Royal Commission for Corruption Control, which had jailed several political leaders on bribery charges in an apparent bid to prevent them from mobilizing support against the king's direct rule.

Hundreds have been jailed, some for a few days and others for several months, since Gyanendra seized power.

The rebels, who say they are inspired by China's Mao Zedong, have fought for a decade to replace the constitutional monarchy with a communist state.

In their statement Saturday, they also urged Nepalese to stop paying taxes and appealed to police and soldiers to join their ranks.

Fighting between the rebels and security forces has escalated since the takeover by Gyanendra, who is facing growing criticism both at home and abroad.

The political impasse has resulted in increasing violations of human rights by the security forces and the rebels.

On Friday, an abducted government official died of an asthma attack in rebel hands in eastern Nepal, a news report said. The administrator was kidnapped Feb. 7 along with 14 other government officials and security personnel. Eleven were later released.

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