Seventeen Maoist guerrillas and six security personnel were killed in the deadliest gun battle in restive Nepal since the rebels ended a four-month-old truce three weeks ago, an army officer said on Sunday.
The news came as an alliance of Nepali opposition parties vowed to continue their protests, just hours after police in Katmandu clashed with crowds demanding that King Gyanendra restore democracy to the Himalayan nation.
The seven-party alliance called for a nationwide general strike on Thursday.
The army officer said the bodies of the 17 dead Maoists and some of their weapons had been recovered from the site of the overnight clash at a remote village in Makawanpur district, 60 miles east of the capital Katmandu.
“We suffered six casualties,” he said.
Another officer said clashes had also taken place in Syangja in western Nepal but gave no details.
The latest violence comes a week after the guerrillas carried out coordinated attacks around the capital, killing 12 policemen.
At least 73 people have been killed in insurgency-related violence since the Maoists, fighting a 10-year revolt to overthrow the monarchy, ended a unilateral cease-fire on Jan. 2 after Gyanendra’s government failed to respond.
The Maoists made no immediate comment on the latest clash.
Fierce street protests
Katmandu saw fierce street protests on Saturday, a day after authorities imposed a curfew to thwart a mass rally, as thousands of anti-king activists fought running battles with riot police.
Riot police kept a strict vigil in the capital on Sunday, guarding the sites of the previous day’s protests. Police said most of the 236 activists detained on Saturday had been freed.
Former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala was released from house arrest, his aide said on Sunday, three days after he was detained along with other political leaders during the clampdown to thwart the rally.
Gyanendra seized absolute power in February last year, sacking a multi-party government and suspending civil liberties. He said the move was necessary to crush the Maoist insurgency, which has cost more than 12,500 lives since 1996.
Minendra Rijal, spokesman for one of the opposition parties, the Nepali Congress (Democratic), said on Sunday the strike called for Thursday was aimed at opposing the king’s plans to hold municipal elections next month.
The parties have vowed to boycott the polls, saying a free and fair vote was impossible under the royalist government.
“We’ll continue to protest until democracy is restored,” Rijal said.