updated 3/21/2006 1:53:41 AM ET 2006-03-21T06:53:41

Communist rebels attacked an army patrol and a police post and booby-trapped a blocked highway, in escalating violence that claimed as many as 28 lives.

Early Monday, Maoist rebels ambushed an army patrol in central Nepal, triggering a shootout that killed at least 13 soldiers and an insurgent near an army camp, the Defense Ministry said. The soldiers were investigating suspicions that rebels had blocked the camp’s water supply when the guerrillas set off an explosion and then fired on the soldiers.

Separately, two civilians were killed by booby-trapped explosives as they cleared a highway of stones and sacks placed by the rebels to block traffic in the area, about 300 miles southeast of Katmandu.

On Tuesday, rebels attacked the police station at Birtamod, about 310 miles southeast of Katmandu, after arriving there in a bus, said Bhola Siwakoti, the chief government official in the area.

At least nine policemen and three rebels were killed in the attack and the fighting that followed, Siwakoti and the local police chief said. The army said it was in control of the town.

In the capital on Monday, about 1,000 pro-democracy activists demanded Gyanendra free political detainees and give up powers he seized last year.

“Respect human rights, restore democracy,” the crowd chanted as they marched through the streets of Katmandu.

They were stopped by the police from entering the city center, where protest rallies are banned by the royal government. There were no scuffles. The protesters squatted on the road and kept chanting slogans.

King Gyanendra has said he seized control of the government to halt corruption and quell the communist insurgency.

The rebels have fought for a decade to replace the monarchy with a communist government — a conflict that has claimed nearly 13,000 lives. But they have recently softened their demand for a communist state and have been working with the political parties to restore democracy.

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