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King blinks in Nepal stand-off
- Government lifts ban on rallies, frees Opposition leaders

Kathmandu, May 3 (Reuters): Nepal’s king, facing protests over his suspension of democracy, today lifted a ban on rallies that had sparked thousands of arrests, but the move failed to quell massive demonstrations.

Police released two top Opposition leaders who were detained to stop them leading the latest in a series of rallies against King Gyanendra to demand he replace an appointed royalist government with a multi-party team and hold elections.

“His Majesty’s Government has lifted the ban on public gatherings with effect from midnight,” home minister Kamal Thapa said. Ending the ban was a key condition the five Opposition parties had set before any talks with Gyanendra to end the political crisis. Last month, they rejected an offer of talks.

“If the move facilitates a meeting between His Majesty the King and the political parties, the government will be happy,” Thapa said. The government also revoked an order allowing police in Kathmandu to hold people for 90 days without a warrant.

Police picked up Nepali Congress party chief Girija Prasad Koirala and Communist Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) head Madhav Kumar Nepal as they left their homes in the city ahead of a protest today, but the two were later released.

More than 5,000 people have been arrested and 300 injured since the protests against the king were stepped up on April 1, the move that originally prompted the ban on public gatherings.

Gyanendra faces increasing criticism over his decision to fire an elected Prime Minister in 2002 and replace the government with a hand-picked royalist cabinet.

The king, who came to power after his brother and several members of the royal family died in a massacre at the palace by the crown prince in 2001, dissolved Parliament and postponed elections indefinitely.

The protests come before a key meeting between the government and foreign donors, who provide more than 60 per cent of the cost of economic development in one of the world’s poorest countries. Many have urged reconciliation between the parties and the king.

Nepal is also fighting to quell a Maoist revolt aimed at overthrowing the monarchy.

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