Nepali police fought running battles with thousands of pro-democracy protesters around the ancient temples and through the narrow streets of the capital yesterday, and hundreds of people were rounded up.
Riot police fired teargas rounds and launched baton charges at protesters in Kathmandu, as political parties stepped up a campaign to force King Gyanendra to cede power, which he seized nearly a year ago. Protesters threw torrents of bricks and stones at police holding plastic shields, a day after authorities scuttled a planned rally by imposing a curfew in the capital.
Human rights activists said several hundred people had been rounded up and taken away in trucks as clashes continued for more than two hours in the streets around the historic Durbar Square and in front of its ancient temples.
Groups of demonstrators, sometimes up to 200 strong, played cat and mouse with police in the narrow alleys, burning tyres, throwing stones and chanting slogans.
"We want democracy. Down with police repression. Autocracy will collapse," they shouted, waving party flags.
Soldiers had patrolled the deserted streets of Kathmandu on Friday to enforce a daytime curfew and thwart a planned mass protest.
Although the curfew was relaxed yesterday, the protests still contravened a ban on them in central Kathmandu, imposed after King Gyanendra sacked the government and seized absolute power last February.
"This simply cannot last," said party activist Man Mohan Bhattarai, speaking as a tear gas shell burst nearby and a dozen helmeted riot police ran past wielding batons. "We will have multi-party democracy soon."
The government detained more than 100 politicians and human rights activists earlier in the week and rounded up hundreds more activists on Friday.
The leaders of the country's main political parties have all been placed under house arrest for up to three months.
The United Nations, United States, India, Europe and Japan have all condemned the arrests.
Maoist rebels fighting to overthrow the monarchy and impose a communist republic have joined the country's main political parties in a loose alliance against the king. Although their aims differ, the parties and the rebels have agreed to cooperate to end what they call "the autocratic monarchy."
On Friday evening, the Maoists attacked two small police posts in the southwestern town of Nepalgunj killing four policemen, according to police.
The Maoists ended a four-month unilateral truce on January 2, complaining the government had failed to reciprocate. At least 50 people have died since then.
The king says he was forced to take power last year to stem the Maoist insurgency that has killed more than 12,500 people since 1996. But his actions have left him increasingly unpopular and isolated, and he has so far failed to contain the rebellion.