KATHMANDU, Apr 24 (Reuters): At least five Maoist rebels and a Nepali soldier were killed when hundreds of rebels stormed an eastern town overnight, the army said on Monday, as a fresh curfew was clamped on the capital to thwart anti-king protests.
Sunday night's attack by the insurgents -- fighting to overthrow the monarchy since 1996 -- was among the biggest in nearly three weeks since a mass pro-democracy campaign erupted across the impoverished Himalayan kingdom.
The attack may have been designed to increase pressure on the king and engage security forces already struggling to quell protests around the country, analysts said.
It took place in Chautara, about 60 miles east of Kathmandu, when the rebels attacked a police station, district administration office, a telecommunications tower and a jail in the town, authorities said.
"We have found bodies of five Maoists in combat dress. One soldier also died," an army officer told Reuters, adding that four civilians were wounded in the crossfire.
"We have foiled their attempt to overrun the town," he said.
Chautara lies in the hills of Sindhupalchowk district, a stronghold of the rebels.
A Reuters reporter on his way to the area said that the rebels had blocked the road about 20 miles short of Chautara town with fallen trees and boulders, apparently to prevent troops from rushing in reinforcements.
District authorities had requested helicopter support and reinforcements, one government official said, while some locals near the area said the fighting could still be going on.
News of the attack came as an alliance of seven political parties vowed to hold more anti-king protests on Monday for the 19th consecutive day, and bring hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets of Kathmandu for a major rally Tuesday.
"We are preparing for a massive rally, to fill the entire ring road with people," Kashinath Adhikary, an official from the Communist Party of Nepal (UML), the country's second biggest political party, told Reuters.
He said top leaders would lead the demonstrations on Tuesday for the first time since this round of protests began on April 6.
Although the 27 km (17-mile) ring road lies within the curfew zone, large stretches are in the hands of the protesters, with burning logs and tires blocking access to security forces.
Authorities clamped a fresh curfew on the capital from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. in a bid to thwart Monday's planned protests.
On Friday King Gyanendra, who seized power last year, offered to hand it over to the seven-party alliance, but his offer was rejected by the parties and has failed to quell the protests.
The country's main political parties entered a loose alliance with Maoist rebels to end royal rule last November.
The rebels, who control vast swathes of the countryside, seek to establish a communist republic in a conflict that has cost more than 13,000 lives.
Maoists are demanding elections for a special assembly to write a new constitution and curb the king's powers, a demand which the political parties have now taken up.
Rejecting Gyanendra's offer to hand over power, party leaders said they did not trust the king and want him to revive parliament, dissolved in 2002.
That in turn would give them the authority to call elections for an assembly to prepare a new constitution and could pave the way for the Maoists to rejoin the mainstream.
The alliance has been agitating since April 6 to force Gyanendra to restore multi-party democracy. At least 12 people have been killed and thousands wounded in protests since then.