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Gunbattles, curfew wrack Nepal


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KATHMANDU, Nepal (CNN) -- Nepalese authorities have announced another daytime curfew in the capital, one day after Maoist rebels attacked government buildings in the eastern part of the country.

There were no reports of casualties in the battle in Chautara, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of Kathmandu, a government source said, but Sunday's gun battle with security forces lasted several hours.

One soldier was killed in a clash with rebels in Nepal's eastern region of Sindhulpalchowk, authorities said.

Security forces battled Maoists who attacked a police post and surrounding government buildings late Saturday. The fighting ended around 2 a.m. Sunday.

As heated pro-democracy protests grip Kathmandu, authorities said a curfew in the capital would be extended on Monday from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. (0515-1215 GMT).

On Sunday, police lobbed tear gas, fired rubber bullets and wielded bamboo batons as they pushed back thousands of pro-democracy protesters outside Kathmandu, where residents were under a new curfew and a cell phone ban.

The daily demonstrations against King Gyanendra's absolute rule have escalated in recent days, and 14 people have died as protests enter their third week. Police were ordered to shoot anyone who crossed into the city of 1.5 million.

Under mounting pressure, the king on Friday vowed to return executive political power "to the people." He said he would support democratic elections, and retain the status he had before he seized power in February 2005. (Full story)

The king would remain guardian of the constitution and symbol of national unity, Information Minister Shirish Rana said.

But some hard-line demonstrators -- many of them young people -- have scoffed at the king's speech, and said they won't stop their protests until the king actually steps down. (Full story)

A ban on cell phones, which began Saturday afternoon, was the second time the government ordered cell phones shut off this month.

The move was aimed at restricting text messages sent to organize protest rallies, said Sugat Ratna Kansakar, managing director of Nepal Telecom, one of the three main cell phone providers.

After the king's address, representatives from seven major political parties and Maoists -- who launched the daily protests and strikes April 6 -- met to begin the process of forming a new government, including finding a candidate for prime minister.

Political observers said reaching consensus would be difficult, and the role of the Maoists in any government was uncertain.

Later Saturday, the representatives asked the king for more concessions, including an immediate reinstatement of parliament.

Government officials have said Maoist "terrorists" are among the demonstrators, and they blamed them for helping to incite the discontent.

The protests and curfews have paralyzed Kathmandu, causing shortages of food and goods, and forcing residents to shop during the brief times that the curfews are lifted.

The king seized power 14 months ago, after accusing the government of failing to control the Maoists, who began their insurgency in 1996 with the goal of forming a communist government. At least 13,000 people have died.

India, which shares a border with Nepal, is among the countries urging the king to restore democracy. Its officials met with Gyanendra last week.

CNN's Senior International Correspondent Satinder Bindra, Correspondent Dan Rivers and Producer Prithvi Banerjii contributed to this report.

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