KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) – Nepal’s royal government on Friday lifted the house arrest imposed on the president of the country’s largest political party and freed at least 257 additional people detained by police after King Gyanendra seized power in February, officials said Friday.

Gyanendra said he suspended democratic government because the political parties and their successive governments had failed to end an escalating Maoist insurgency. The rebels, who claim to be inspired by the Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong, have been fighting to abolish the monarchy and establish a communist state.

Hundreds of politicians and their supporters have been jailed for street protests or rounded up from their homes. Top political leaders were kept under house arrest, while rank-and-file activists were generally jailed.

Nepali Congress party president Girija Prasad Koirala’s release Friday came three weeks after similar restrictions were removed from the former prime minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, and could signal a softening of the king’s hold on Nepal’s political life.

Opposition politicians, however, have interpreted previous releases of political prisoners as token gestures in response to international criticism. Hundreds are estimated to remain under arrest.

Gyanendra’s recent actions provoked an international outcry, and Britain and India cut aid while the United States and other countries have threatened to do so. Nepal relies on the aid to alleviate widespread poverty and to fight the rebel insurgency, which began in 1996 and has killed an estimated 10,500 people.

The Nepali Congress party, Nepal’s largest, has been leading protests demanding Gyanendra restore democracy in a country best known outside the region as a haven for backpackers and mountain climbers, but which has been teetering between democracy and monarchy since the first democratic government was formed in 1990.

Even as the government was freeing political detainees Friday, baton-wielding policemen broke up an anti-royalist rally and arrested at least a dozen protesters in Katmandu.

AP-ES-04-01-05 1025EST

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