Local media reported that the Maoists forced one member of each household from villages across the country to travel to the capital in hundreds of vehicles that they commandeered from local operators.
There were also reports the rebels kidnapped students to force them to attend the gathering.
"We came from Kapilvastu" (southwest of Kathmandu near the border with India), one man told IPS, standing alongside about two dozen mostly women who were sitting on the pavement across from the rally site.
The meeting took place in the heart of the capital, about one kilometre from the royal palace, which was watched by armed soldiers.
But few soldiers or police could be seen near the site, an open-air theatre, watched intently by people packed tightly on streets, sidewalks, fences and even high up in trees. About 100,000 people attended the gathering, reported the website Nepalnews.com -- far fewer than the 500,000 people some Maoist leaders had predicted.
Loudspeakers attached to poles carried the voices of speakers from the theatre, which was jam-packed with people hours before the rally began at about 1 pm. "There were five buses and it took us 12 hours," the Kapilvastu man added, lurching forward as streams of people pushed past him to find a way into the ground.
Many of the women seated on the pavement were barefoot and had covered their heads with scarves to block the hot sun. One held a furled Maoist flag limply in her arms. Shopkeepers stood on sidewalks and residents peered from windows to watch the rivers of people that flowed through the city toward the meeting from all directions. "I came here just to see what they would say to the people," said Dhruba KC, standing on a sidewalk shoulder-to-shoulder with other onlookers.
"Peace and stability are the priorities now but things do not appear to be going that way," added the middle-aged man.
Three weeks of daily rallies that swelled to more than 100,000 people marching on the streets forced the king to return power to the "people's movement" on Apr. 24 by reinstating the lower house of parliament. He had fired his appointed prime minister and taken over on Feb. 1, 2005, mainly on the pretence of stamping out the insurgency -- but he failed.
More than 14,000 people, mostly innocent villagers, are believed to have died in the uprising that the Maoists launched from the dirt-poor western hills region, an area long neglected by leaders in Kathmandu.
They said they were fighting on behalf of people excluded from social, political and economic power, including dalits, or so-called 'untouchables.'
In November, the rebels and alliance of seven political parties (SPA) signed a pact that culminated in the 'people's movement.' Days after the king stepped aside, the revived House of Representatives declared that the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) would no longer be considered a "terrorist" organization and began releasing leaders and cadres from prison.
Ever since, the parties (who now lead the government) and rebel leaders have sparred publicly over the best route to travel to a constituent assembly that would rewrite the constitution, deciding the fate of the hereditary monarchy. The Maoists want to dissolve parliament and play a role in an interim government that would organize the assembly but the parties say a temporary government is unnecessary.
Despite that argument, and widespread complaints of continued extortion by Maoist cadres, the two sides launched preliminary peace talks this week. A second meeting is expected in coming weeks.
At Friday's meeting Maoist spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara accused the seven parties of betraying the people's wishes and "trying to move ahead with their own agenda, which is unacceptable to us."
No comment from the parties was available late Friday.
A couple of times during the meeting, stampedes threatened as whistles rose from the open-air theatre and people started running from the site, spooked by fast-flying rumours. But no panic developed and no violent incidents were reported after the meeting ended about 5pm.
Many of those wearing the red T-shirts or red scarves on their heads were youths. "I'm wearing a Maoist shirt but I'm not a Maoist," said one young man, who described himself as a restaurant owner in a nearby town. "I'm just a volunteer; I'm not political, I'm just here to help people."
Two college students, not wearing red, said they supported the Maoists as "independent volunteers." "This country is very poor," said one of them. "They (the rebels) can bring development," he added confidently.
While Maoist leaders insist they are committed to multi-party democracy, many lower-ranking rebels appear to be going out of their way to sow doubt in the minds of Nepalis.
While no Maoists were seen carrying weapons Friday, a condition of the code of conduct agreed to by the rebels and government, after the first peace talks, hundreds of armed Maoists reportedly moved openly at a meeting in the eastern city of Biratnagar on Thursday.
Local media reported that a member of the rebels peace talks team, Dev Gurung, warned earlier this week, "The possibility of a coup will increase even if the (constituent assembly) elections is delayed by six months."
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June 1, 2006 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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