Tens of thousands of communist demonstrators blocked the streets leading to the government headquarters in Nepal's capital and scuffled with police Thursday in one of the biggest protests against the president and administration in months.
Demonstrators prevented officials from entering the area, shutting down many government functions. Hundreds of riot police armed with batons and tear gas guarded the complex.
Irrigation Minister Bal Krishna Khad said only four Cabinet ministers managed to reach their offices before the protest began. Most government employees were unable to get to work.
Protests by supporters of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) have grown in size throughout the country in recent weeks. Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who quit as prime minister in May, ending a Maoist-led government, told The Associated Press the protests would continue until the government resigns.
"It is our duty as nation-loving citizens to come to the rescue of the country. That is why we have gathered here in a large number," Dahal said.
Dahal resigned as prime minister after President Ram Baran Yadav rejected his government's decision to fire the army chief. The Maoists accuse the army chief of opposing the integration of thousands of former rebel fighters into the national army, a key component of a peace deal under which the Maoists laid down their arms three years ago. Communist fighters are still confined to U.N.-monitored camps.
A brief scuffle broke out Thursday as protesters attempted to push through the police line and officers beat them back with batons.
Demonstrators threw stones at the police, who responded with tear gas. Minor injuries were sustained on both sides, news reports said.
A police official at the scene, Kul Bahadur Karki, estimated the crowd to be in the tens of thousands.
The Maoists fought government troops between 1996 and 2006, when they joined a peace process. More than 13,000 people were killed during the insurgency.
The Maoists are demanding that the president, who oversees the military, accept the dismissal of the army chief. They then want the present government to be disbanded, followed by the formation of a new coalition government led by them.