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Nepal Supreme Court Frees King’s Foes

February 17, 2006

KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) _ Nepal’s Supreme Court ordered the royalist government Friday to release 37 political detainees who opposed the king’s rule, while communist insurgents freed two abducted officials amid a major army offensive in the southwest.

The freed politicians called the court’s ruling ``a victory for democracy″ and pledged to intensify their campaign against King Gyanendra, who seized power in February 2005.

Judges ruled they did not find any reason for the detentions and ordered the government to immediately free the prisoners.

The detainees freed Friday included senior members of the seven political parties that have formed an alliance to press for democracy in this Himalayan nation. Thirteen were brought to the court while the rest were released from several detention centers in the capital, Katmandu.

``This is a victory for those who believe in democracy. We will continue our struggle for democracy and immediately return to our movement,″ said Raghuji Pant of the Communist Party of Nepal.

Pant was arrested during a Feb. 1 police raid as the government tried to foil opposition plans to boycott and disrupt municipal elections that day.

Hundreds have been jailed since the king seized power and declared a state of emergency, saying he was acting to quell the Maoist rebellion and bring order to the country’s chaotic politics.

The rebels, who say they are inspired by Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong, have fought for a decade to establish a communist state in Nepal.

The prisoners have been detained for terms ranging from a few days to many months.

Authorities arrested a number of politicians and activists in recent weeks in a government crackdown on protest rallies. Many were freed this past week following a series of lawsuits filed by rights groups demanding the government produce charges against the detainees.

Friday’s ruling by the Supreme Court came ahead of a demonstration scheduled for Sunday to mark Democracy Day, which celebrates a popular movement of the 1980s that forced the previous king to establish a multiparty democracy.

Meanwhile, an international media rights group said that since Jan. 20, the government has arrested at least 114 journalists ``doing their jobs or taking part in pro-democracy demonstrations.″

Six of them remain in custody, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said in a statement late Thursday, adding that Nepal has arrested more journalists than any other country in the past two years.

Gyanendra said he took power to quell a festering communist insurgency and wipe out corruption in the government that alienated a majority of Nepal’s 27 million people and claimed 12,000 lives. But the fighting between rebels and security forces has intensified.

Earlier this week, the Royal Nepalese Army launched a major offensive in the southwest, deploying thousands of troops to the districts of Palpa and Nawalparasi. Army helicopters also have been intermittently bombing to flush out rebels from the area, which has been mired in violence since the guerrillas ended a unilateral cease-fire last month.

The massive air and ground offensive appeared to be pushing the guerrillas back. The rebels said Thursday they were withdrawing a blockade of the main highways in the region.

The insurgents also freed two government officials who were abducted over the weekend, said Deepak Joshi, the top government administrator for Kapilbastu district. They were handed to local human rights workers near Madhura village, 155 miles southwest of Katmandu.

Joshi said the captives, Bhawani Parajuli and Bimal Prasad Acharya, had been blindfolded and marched from one location to another under cover of darkness for five days. But their condition was good and they did not appear to have been physically harmed.

The spokesman for the rebels’ western command, Ramesh Koirala, said the rebels were complying with requests by rights’ groups and the general public to lift the blockades.

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