Opposition political parties in Nepal have called a general strike, set for Thursday of this week, to protest against direct rule by King Gyanendra.
The strike is timed to coincide with the deadline for nominations for sham elections called by the king. A coalition of seven opposition parties have called for a boycott of these elections and a restoration of “total democracy”.
The parties also want to see the release of hundreds of political activists held by the government.
Dozens more activists were arrested last Saturday when protesters clashed with police for almost three hours in the capital, Kathmandu.
Some 264 demonstrators were detained, of whom 213 were later freed.
King Gyanendra first seized power in October 2002, following 12 years of limited democracy.
A series of ineffectual “interim governments” followed, until February last year when the king declared a state of emergency and took over all executive powers.
Neither the governments in place before the king’s coup, nor the palace, have been able to deal with deep-seated poverty and social injustice in Nepal.
Some 40 percent of the population live below the poverty line.
Growing discontent fed into a Maoist insurgency, which began ten years ago and which has seen armed groups take control of much of the country.
Although they have been criticised by some for their violent actions, the Maoists still enjoy considerable support in many regions.
Most ordinary Nepalese people oppose the authoritarian rule practised by the palace.
They would like to see a more democratic alternative – either through the victory of the Maoist insurgency or through a return to multi-party democracy.