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Nepal has extended a curfew in the capital, Kathmandu, designed to prevent more anti-Muslim rioting.

The move came as the Himalayan kingdom marked a national day of mourning for 12 Nepalis murdered by Islamic militants in Iraq.

The curfew was imposed on Wednesday after thousands of rioters stormed the main mosque in Kathmandu.

Recruitment companies of the sort that employed the 12 men as kitchen hands and labourers were also attacked, as were the offices of Arab airlines.

Two people were killed in clashes with police as crowds chanted anti-Muslim and anti-government slogans.

The unrest came despite Nepalese Muslim organisations issuing statements expressing horror at the murders.

The killings were video-taped and shown on an Islamic website. The group which kidnapped the men had made no demands for their release.

The curfew in Kathmandu was lifted for a few hours early to allow residents to buy essential commodities.

Soldiers carrying automatic weapons patrolled the deserted streets of the nation's capital, where a blockade by Maoist rebels fighting to overturn the monarchy ended last week.


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US volunteers heed Nepal warning

Volunteers of the American Peace Corps have begun leaving villages in Nepal following a US embassy warning for their safety.

The US State Department agreed to its embassy's request to allow the volunteers and families of diplomats to return home.

The department also posted a new warning that Maoist rebels might target American citizens.

The US information centre in Kathmandu was hit by two bombs last Friday.

Website warning

The US embassy's spokeswoman, Constance Jones, said the Peace Corps volunteers were assembling in Kathmandu.

They are likely to leave for home shortly.

About 100 volunteers had been working across Nepal in health, education, environment and infrastructure sectors.

The State Department warning appeared on its website, saying the embassy had received information of possible Maoist attacks on US citizens "particularly in regions of the country under Maoist control".

It advised Americans against non-essential travel to Nepal and for those in the nation to avoid road travel outside Kathmandu.

The embassy asked the department to allow the departures after the bombings at the information centre.

It said the attack not only endangered lives but also violated international norms and laws.

No one has admitted responsibility for the attack, but Maoist rebels have long been threatening to attack American targets.

The rebels have been critical of the US for providing military and financial assistance to the government to bolster the anti-insurgency operation.

The US has provided $22m in security assistance over the past three years and on Monday announced an additional $1m.

The rebels have been engaged in an armed struggle since 1996 to replace the monarchy with a communist republic.

About 9,000 people have died since then.


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Deadlock over Nepal firms broken

Nearly 50 businesses ordered to close down by Maoist rebels in Nepal look set to reopen from Thursday.

Human rights activists mediating between the rebels and the government say the Maoists have lifted their closure order on the businesses.

The rebels' decision came after the government agreed to release two Maoist trade union leaders from detention.

An estimated 100,000 workers will now breathe a sigh of relief as the way is cleared for them to return to work.

They will now no longer face the threat of Maoist violence.

Volunteer exodus

News of this apparent breakthrough came about in a low-key fashion.

Three parties - the government, the Maoist-affiliated trade union which imposed this ban and Nepal's Chambers of Commerce - all released statements made public by four human rights activists who have been mediating between them.

They work for 47 businesses, ranging from food and textiles manufacturers through to luxury hotels, two of which were bombed as a prelude to the closure orders.

Tens of thousands more people were affected in secondary ways, for instance those who normally catered to the idle workers.

A dozen of the businesses have been closed for a month, the others since last week.

The mediators say the government has agreed to free two of the Maoist union's detained leaders on Friday and clarify the whereabouts of 22 others over the next month providing the companies are allowed to reopen.

Meanwhile American volunteer workers have been leaving Nepali villages as the US State Department suspended peace corps operations here and warned Americans against non-essential travel to Nepal.

That followed a Maoist bomb attack on the US government library in Kathmandu last week which caused minor damage.


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Nepal Maoists reject talks plea

Maoist rebels in Nepal have rejected a new appeal by the prime minister for talks to end their insurgency.

Rebel spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara said the government had neither the authority nor sincerity to hold talks.

Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba issued his plea on Wednesday. The rebels have previously insisted on direct talks with King Gyanendra.

The Maoists have been engaged in an armed struggle since 1996 to replace the monarchy with a communist republic.


Mr Mahara made his response to the latest call in an interview broadcast by private radio stations.

He accused the government of being dependent on foreign forces.

The rebels have been critical of the support extended to the government by India and the United States.

Mr Mahara also said Nepal's government wanted to step up operations under the guise of peace initiatives.

Peace talks broke down in August last year over a key rebel demand for a constituent assembly that would draw up a new constitution.

Violence has increased since the breakdown of the talks, raising the number of casualties in the eight-year conflict to more than 9,000.


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Nepal's rights record condemned

Nepalese troops and Maoist rebels have both been responsible for kidnapping and killings in the country's civil war, a human rights group says.

The US-based Human Rights Watch says other countries should use their influence with Nepalese authorities to stop such abuses.

The Maoists have been engaged in an armed struggle since 1996 to replace the monarchy with a communist republic.

At least 9,500 people have lost their lives in the eight-year insurgency.

"In Nepal's escalating civil war, civilians in contested areas are executed, abducted and tortured both by government forces and Maoist rebels," the Human Rights Watch report says.

The report describes many cases in which villagers have been taken from their homes by the rebels or the security forces, and are either shot dead or disappear.

'Dirty war'

The villagers face the risk of reprisals from both the rebels and security forces if they provide information to the security forces or shelter the rebels, the report says.

"Neither the government nor the Maoists appear particularly concerned with the protection of civilians while they fight this dirty war," Brad Williams, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division told the Associated Press.

"If they want to have any legitimacy in Nepal or with the international community, they need to end attacks on civilians," he said.

The Nepalese army denies that it targets innocent civilians.

Peace talks between the government and the rebels broke down last year over a key rebel demand for a constituent assembly that would draw up a new constitution clearing the way for a communist republic.

Story from BBC NEWS:


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