Students stage rare protest against Nepal's ex-king

Dozens of students staged a rare protest on Monday against Nepal's former king at the start of his private pilgrimage in the southeast of the country, police said.

Police arrested six protesters after they blocked roads and tore down banners welcoming Gyanendra Shah to Saptari district, in a rare demonstration against the monarchy which was abolished five years ago.

"They also dismantled makeshift gates (built over the roads) welcoming the former monarch," Rajendra Thakuri, a local police officer of Saptari district, told AFP.

He said the students were angry at public displays of support for Nepal's monarch, particularly banners in the town of Rajbiraj that still proclaimed the former king as "His Majesty King Gyanendra".

Police said around 60 protesters blocked roads throughout the district, forcing their closure and prompting police to deploy some 300 officers.

"They have shut down the district. Only a handful of vehicles are plying because they fear for their safety. Some protesters have snatched the keys of some vehicles," Thakuri said.

Gyanendra left the sprawling royal palace in Kathmandu five years ago after a parliament dominated by Maoist former rebels voted to abolish the monarchy.

Since then, the impoverished young republic has struggled to move on from a decade-long civil war between the leftist guerrillas and the state that ended in 2006.

There is growing public frustration at the slow pace of political progress, and the royal family remains respected among some older Nepalese.

Sagar Timalsina, an aide to Gyanendra, told AFP the former monarch would visit Hindu temples and meet supporters during his two-week long tour that would cover seven districts.

"This is a purely religious visit. As a Nepali citizen, he can travel anywhere in the country. The visit is not politically motivated. But as a citizen, he can obviously have some interest in politics," Timalsina said.

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