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Curfew in Kathmandu
*Nepal releases 2 political detainees
*Karan Singh arrives for talks with King

Dr Karan Singh, special envoy of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, arrives at Nepal’s Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu on Wednesday.
Dr Karan Singh, special envoy of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, arrives at Nepal’s Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu on Wednesday. — Reuters photo

Kathmandu, April 19
Nepal's royalist government freed the country's two top political prisoners on Wednesday, a sign that King Gyanendra may want to negotiate with anti-monarchy protesters who have brought the kingdom to a standstill.

But in the east, security forces opened fire on protesters in the town of Chandragadi, killing at least two persons and wounding dozens, witnesses and political party activists said.

A local official in the town, 600 km (375 miles) east of Kathmandu, said the forces retaliated after they were fired on by the crowd. He said two persons were killed.

The government also slapped a curfew on Kathmandu and neighbouring areas for Thursday, when political parties have vowed to bring out hundreds of thousands of people on to the streets to force the king's hand. Violators of the curfew could be shot, the government said in a notice.

Madhav Kumar Nepal, general secretary of the Communist Party of Nepal (UML), and Ram Chandra Poudel, general secretary of the Nepali Congress, were freed at Kathmandu district court.

Scores of supporters threw vermillion powder in the air and cheered as the two men were freed.

"The movement will continue in an effective and forceful manner," Nepal said, "We will continue until full sovereignty is returned to the people."

The two parties are the largest in a seven-party alliance fighting Gyanendra for the restoration of democracy. Including the latest deaths, at least eight persons have been killed in two weeks of crippling protests, hundreds wounded and hundreds of others arrested.

Earlier, Dr Karan Singh and Foreign secretary Shyam Saran arrived here today.

Dr Karan Singh, accompanied by Mr Pankaj Saran, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, landed at the Tribhuvan International airport this afternoon.

“India always wants peace and prosperity in Nepal and I am hopeful that the present crisis will be solved soon,” he told mediapersons at the airport.

Mr Saran arrived here on a Druk Air flight this morning from Bhutan.

“I bring prayers and hope that Nepal will get out of the present difficult situation and return to peace and prosperity, Dr Karan Singh, told reporters at the airport.

Meanwhile, all private airlines will cease domestic operations and the largest wholesale vegetable market here will shut tomorrow in support of protesters readying for a showdown with King Gyanendra.

A fuel shortage has gripped Kathmandu after gas stations shut down to check rampant black marketing.

For the first time in Nepal’s aviation history, the Airline Operators Association of Nepal has announced it would cancel all domestic flights operated by its affiliated airlines tomorrow to show solidarity with the Opposition parties who began an indefinite shutdown on April 6.

About 70 flights connecting Kathmandu with Nepal’s major cities operated by about 18 domestic airlines would be cancelled. Only a few domestic flights run by national carrier Royal Nepal Airlines would operate.

All gas stations closed down indefinitely today after the Nepal Petroleum Dealers’ Association decided to take the drastic measure to stop black marketing.

The fuel scarcity grew worse after tankers carrying fuel from India were unable to reach the major cities due to the Oppostion closure.

The security forces continued to crack down on protesters on the 14th day of the protests today arresting nearly 250 professors.

The royal government earlier in the day imposed a curfew in the western town of Pokhara and gave the security forces shoot-at-sight orders

Anyone violating the curfew would be shot, the state-run Radio Nepal said.

The curfew was imposed after at least 50 protesters were injured in firing and baton charge by the security forces in Pokhara yesterday where thousands participated in protests calling for the King’s ouster. — Agencies
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