Protesters plan final heave to rid Nepal of monarch
· Rebels predict victory within next two days
· Further clashes as king loses grip on power
Nepal's pro-democracy movement called for a final push to remove the country's monarch tomorrow as demonstrators clashed with armed police, defying curfews, teargas and bullets on the edge of the capital.
In Gongabu, a northern suburb of Kathmandu that has seen some of the worst violence over the past 18 days of protests, leaders from the political parties appealed to a crowd of thousands to regroup peacefully as King Gyanendra had "only two days left now".
"We are about to win the war," Bamdev Gautam, the leading negotiator for the political parties with Maoist guerrillas, said to cheers at a mass rally. Mr Gautam was briefly imprisoned last week after returning from talks with the rebels. "Many Nepalis have given their lives to remove the king," he said. "We are not going back. We are not scared of the king's bullets ... because we are about to win the war."
Kathmandu, sitting in a ring of lofty mountains, has been left pockmarked and smouldering by the violence. Yesterday at least two dozen people were injured, some by rubber bullets, after further clashes between police and protesters in different parts of the city.
Mass demonstrations took place on the ring road around the capital. Protesters have cut down trees and set fire to them to block access to security forces. Effigies of the king and banners proclaiming his end have been strung up. Tens of thousands took to the streets in the southern town of Narayanghat, an example of a rash of mass protests that have rocked the countryside for weeks.
Over the weekend the parties were emboldened by the palace's shrinking authority, saying the brutal crackdown on the originally peaceful protests had turned the monarch into the mayor of Kathmandu. "The king's rule is only inside the ring road; outside it is in the hands of the people," said Mr Gautam. The alliance of the seven main political parties, who have a history of feuding, and the Maoist guerrillas remains intact, and its ultimate aim is now clearly aimed at toppling the monarch.
The Maoists, whose "people's war" has claimed the lives of more than 13,000 people, have said they want elections to form an assembly that could rewrite the constitution to end 237 years of the Shah dynasty's rule. The king has not proved totally powerless. The palace managed to cut off the mobile phone network, used by demonstrators to organise gatherings, causing the 24-hour delay in calling for the next strike.
What has become increasingly clear is that Nepal's young people are at the heart of the struggle to get rid of the king. Almost two-thirds of Nepal's 27 million people are under 35, and have been exposed to modern ideas and trends in the 15 years after democracy arrived in 1990.
Access to the internet, global pop culture and news has increased their scepticism of the monarchy. Unlike older Nepalis, who see the king as a divine figure unifying the country, the young are increasingly revolutionary in their demands.
On the streets they call the king a "thief" and a "brother killer", a reflection of a widespread belief that King Gyanendra was responsible for the death of his brother, the then King Birendra, in the palace massacre of 2001. It was this bloody act that saw Gyanendra ascend to the throne.
In Gongabu, standing in a crossing renamed Republic Square, Hemant Kumar Chettri, a 22-year-old student, said that after days of beatings by the army the Maoists were a lesser threat than the palace. "If you compare the terrorism of the Maoists to that of the palace, we prefer the Maoists. The Maoists kill for a reason and at night. The king does it during the day without any reason."
The youth also mete out punishment beatings to anyone in the crowds they suspect of being a police informer. Yesterday foreign aid workers had to step in to save the life of one man who was set upon in the neighbourhood of Chabel.
The cost of the conflict is also being borne disproportionately by the young. In bed 310 of Kathmandu's Model hospital lies 15-year-old Nuba Raj Parajula, under a blanket which he rolls back to reveal the steel pins holding together the smashed bones of his leg.
Last week he was shot at close range by a high-velocity bullet during a protest. Doctors say he will never walk normally again and will need crutches for a year. He has already lost his job at a local mineral factory for missing shifts. The pay was 3,300 rupees (£26) a month.
Nuba says he has no regrets and would go on another protest without hesitation. "I want an equal society, which we cannot have from the king. Only democracy will let us have a say."