By Binaj Gurubacharya, Katmandu
A REBEL attack and an army shooting of protesters marred Nepal’s first elections in seven years, as few voters turned out yesterday at schools, shrines and temples for municipal balloting seen as a referendum on the king. At least six people were killed.
Maoist rebels and nearly all the major political parties had pledged to disrupt the poll - calling it a sham intended to legitimise the rule of King Gyanendra, who seized power a year ago. The government warned it would shoot anyone trying to do so.
After polls closed at 5pm, Chief Election Commissioner Keshav Raj Rajbhandari said preliminary turnout was just over 20% nationwide. The final figure was still being tabulated.
Before the vote, officials predicted privately that turnout would be about 30%. Results were not expected until today.
Hours before polls closed in the southwestern town of Dang, the army said "soldiers were compelled to open fire" on some 150 protesters trying to interfere with the vote. One person was killed and one injured.
Attempts to reach Dang by telephone to verify the army’s account were unsuccessful because phones there were not working. It was unclear why.
Three communist rebels were killed in two separate clashes. The Defence Ministry said two rebels were killed when Maoist insurgents launched a major assault hours before polls opened on the eastern town of Dhankuta, where the guerrillas bombed at least 12 government buildings and destroyed the local bank.
The insurgents also killed a policeman and a civilian, and took seven government officials and three policemen hostage during the assault, a police official said.
Another rebel was killed in a clash with soldiers in the western town of Dhangadi, the ministry said in a statement without elaborating.
Communist rebels called off a general strike shortly after polls closed, saying the action succeeded in keeping people from voting.