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They just want peace

POKHARA (NEPAL), FEB. 5 . Caught between a rebel army fighting for power, and a government fighting to cling to it, Surya Prashad Dahal knows all too well what it means to be trapped in the middle.

"It doesn't matter to me at all who runs the country," says the young shopkeeper, who owns a tiny store that sells posters, mirrors and picture frames in this quiet, once-thriving tourist town at the foothills of the Himalayas. "We just need peace," he says, his anger barely contained. Dahal's livelihood depends indirectly on the tourists who have been scared away by the nine-year Maoist rebellion and the political turmoil it has spawned. "It doesn't matter if it's the politicians, or the Maoists or the King."

It's an unfortunate reality in this beautiful but desperately poor kingdom, a country where the rebellion has spawned political turmoil and, most recently, royal absolutism. In Pokhara, people like Dahal are desperate. Today marked the end of a nationwide three-day strike called long ago by the Maoist insurgents. In Kathmandu, where the King and his army now wield complete authority, the strike meant little: cars jammed the roads, shops were opened, and children went to school. — AP

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