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Nepal appeals for calm after deadly clashes over constitution

12 august 2015, 10:39
0
Nepalese activists from marginalised Tharu community take part in a torch rally against the division of Tharu-majority districts in the country's proposed federal structure in Kathmandu. ©AFP
Nepalese activists from marginalised Tharu community take part in a torch rally against the division of Tharu-majority districts in the country's proposed federal structure in Kathmandu. ©AFP

Nepali politicians including Prime Minister Sushil Koirala appealed for calm Tuesday as hundreds protested against a new constitution for a second day after police shot dead two people during a demonstration, AFP reports.

Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at hundreds of protestors amassing in the country's troubled midwest, the day after two demonstrators were shot dead by security forces in a bid to fend off an attack on the home of a local lawmaker.

"Police were forced to fire tear gas and rubber bullets to stop demonstrators from entering restricted areas and vandalising buildings," said Rajesh Lal Karna, police chief of Surkhet district in midwestern Nepal.

Schools, shops and factories were also closed in the district, where demonstrators protested plans to divide the midwestern region into two provinces under a draft constitution that seeks to restructure Nepal as a federal state.

"Hundreds of security forces have been deployed in Surkhet and surrounding areas in case the situation turns hostile," said national police spokesman Kamal Singh Bam.

Koirala called for restraint, saying negotiations over the new long-awaited constitution were ongoing.

"We appeal for the public to exercise restraint and help us with suggestions, stopping all protests," Koirala said in a joint statement with other political leaders. 

"We will attempt to find solutions to the issues that have risen, keeping in mind the people's aspirations, and the country's need and interests," the statement added. 

Bam said police had opened fire on Monday after the protests in Surkhet had turned violent.

"After crowds started attacking the house of a local MP and tried to vandalise offices yesterday, we were forced to use firepower and two protesters were killed in the firing," he told AFP.

Under the proposed constitution, which has been held up for years by political wrangling, Nepal will be divided into six provinces.

An agreement on the borders of the new provinces was struck at the weekend, after April's devastating earthquake helped bring a halt to the seemingly endless bickering between rival parties.

But the proposals have caused consternation in several parts of the country, including in the southern plains and the midwest.

In the capital Kathmandu, dozens of demonstrators representing the historically marginalised Tharu community from Nepal's western plains staged a torch rally, pushing for a separate province.

Lawmaker Ganga Tharu, who participated in the rally, accused the country's top parties of exploiting the community, which has struggled to cast off the shackles of decades spent as bonded slaves and indebted serfs to high-caste landowners.

"They made us slaves and ruled over us for decades. Now they are trying to divide us with an intention to enslave us politically," said Tharu.

"We will struggle until our demands are met," she told AFP.  

Lawmakers began work on a new national constitution in 2008 following a decade-long Maoist insurgency that left an estimated 16,000 people dead and brought down the monarchy.

But parties were unable to reach agreement and the resulting uncertainty left Nepal -- one of the world's poorest countries -- in political limbo.


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