A general strike to protest laws restricting the media shut down schools, businesses and transportation in Nepal's capital, Katmandu, on Friday. Nepal's seven major political parties called the strike to oppose new regulations that let authorities shut down newspapers and radio stations, and jail journalists.
The new laws, imposed on Oct. 9, make publishing or broadcasting criticism of Nepal's king punishable by up to two years in prison. They also raise the maximum fine for newspapers or journalists who criticize the royal government by 10 times to 500,000 rupees (US$7,000; Ђ5,800), and give authorities the power to revoke journalists' credentials.
On Friday, hundreds of police patrolled Katmandu's streets as journalists and activists planned to hold a mass protest rally in the city.
"We called the strike to oppose the attack on media organizations, journalists and the new law," said Subash Nemwang of the Communist Party of Nepal.
The seven main parties have been organizing street protests to demand restoration of democracy in the Himalayan kingdom since constitutional monarch King Gyanendra seized absolute power on Feb. 1, firing the government and forming his own.
The king has since launched a tough crackdown on dissent, saying it was necessary to combat a growing communist insurgency.
Dozens of reporters have been arrested since the king took absolute power, and three are still believed to be behind bars. Any criticism of the royal government and security forces has been banned, along with any independent news reporting on the insurgency by Maoist rebels seeking to establish a communist state in Nepal.
About 12,000 people have died in the conflict.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court issued an interim ruling ordering the government not to take any action against radio station Kantipur, which the royal government had threatened to shut down for disobeying a ban on news reports. The government had ordered private stations to broadcast only entertainment programs, reports the AP. I.L.