By RAJESH MAHAPATRA, Associated Press Writer Sat Feb 18, 11:18 PM ET
KATMANDU, Nepal - Nepal’s communist insurgents called for an indefinite nationwide strike next month, while the country’s authoritarian king appealed to opposition political parties for reconciliation on Sunday.
The strike was to start April 3 and was to follow about three weeks of blockades of roads to the capital, Katmandu, and other main cities and towns, a statement by rebel leaders Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai said Saturday. Schools and businesses will be forced to close and transportation disrupted, the statement said.
On Sunday, the Himalayan kingdom’s major political parties prepared for a weekend protest amid growing anger at King Gyanendra’s rule.
Hours before the rally, Gyanendra called "on all willing political parties to come forth to fully activate, at the earliest, the stalled democratic process in the greater interest of the nation."
Opposition parties promised to continue protests until the king complies to their demand of restoring democracy.
"It is an artificial appeal that does not mean anything for us," said Khadga Prasad Oli, deputy leader of the Communist Party of Nepal.
More than 10,000 protesters are expected to join a rally Sunday 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 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 authoritarian 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 Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong, have fought for a decade to replace the constitutional monarchy with a communist state.
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 insurgency has claimed nearly 13,000 lives in the past decade.
In the past, the rebels have used violence to enforce blockades and strikes, but in a recent deal with the seven major political parties they promised not to harm civilians in their pursuit of a communist state.