Doctors at Model hospital in Kathmandu said three people died in Thursday's protest and more than 40 were in critical condition, mostly with head injuries.

The injuries came after police fired rubber bullets and live rounds at the crowd.

 

Kunjan Aryal of Insec-Nepal, a Kathmandu-based rights group, said the clash occurred in the Kalanki neighbourhood on the western edge of Kathmandu.

 

Aryal said: "Our volunteers have already picked up several wounded people and there are reports of many more wounded waiting for rescue."

 

The violence came as about 30,000 people who had walked in from surrounding villages began marching along the main road into the city centre.

 

Defiant protests

 

Opposition leaders met on Thursday and decided to go ahead with the protest, starting with rallies at Kathmandu's major entry points.

 

The Kalanki rally was among the largest protesting against King Gyanendra's rule.

 

A line of police officers blocking the road into the city first tried to turn the crowd back with tear gas, and then opened fire with rubber bullets and live ammunition, witnesses said.

 

Police opened fire on protesters
marching towards the capital

The capital had been poised for confrontation, with soldiers and police patrolling the streets as thousands of protesters from surrounding areas headed towards the city limits, where troops had orders to shoot on sight anyone breaking a curfew.

 

District administration officers said the 2am-8pm curfew was necessary to prevent opposition parties from holding Thursday's rally.

 

Unlike previous curfews in Nepal where passes were issued to tourists, journalists, diplomats and hospital vehicles, this curfew has not taken such measures.

 

A foreign diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said the restriction on passes was intended to keep observers from seeing what was going on in the streets.

 

Monarch talks

 

Gyanendra, meanwhile, met Karan Singh, India's special envoy, at the royal palace in the heart of Kathmandu, state-run Nepal television said.

 

Singh was in the palace for two hours, according to the report.

 

India has renewed calls for Gyanendra to restore democracy and to hold dialogue with political groups.

 

Details of the meeting were not immediately available.