KATMANDU, Nepal, March 14 -- Security forces arrested hundreds of people calling for the restoration of democracy in the biggest protests since King Gyanendra imposed emergency rule last month, according to Nepali political parties and witnesses.
The Himalayan kingdom's five main political parties had called on their members to defy a ban on protests to register their opposition to Gyanendra's assumption of absolute power, which has been condemned by the governments of India, the United States and Britain.
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The biggest protest was in the eastern town of Janakpur. The Communist Party of Nepal said 500 activists were arrested there, while Brij Kumar Yadav, a Janakpur journalist, estimated there had been 300 arrests. A crackdown by security forces muted the response elsewhere.
After Gyanendra declared a state of emergency on Feb. 1, he moved to stifle dissent, saying Nepali leaders had failed to crush a Maoist revolt in which more than 11,000 people have been killed since 1996.
There were at least 100 other arrests around the country, party sources and witnesses said.
In the capital, Katmandu, a planned protest fizzled before it began, with riot police and reporters outnumbering protesters in the city's Asan bazaar, but there were sporadic gestures of defiance, resulting in 15 arrests.
"We are fighting for democracy," said Bir Bahadur Singh, a gray-haired man wearing glasses. "This is just a beginning. We will continue the protests until our demands are met."
Police led him away. Minutes later, two elderly men were also taken away. "Under the emergency, assembly is prohibited," said police official Ramesh Kharel.