Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – At least four people have died and dozens have been injured in recent violent clashes between Nepali police and minority protesters who complain that the country’s new territorial divisions ignore their interests.
Nepali authorities blame the clashes in Morang District on Madheshi minority groups and parties in the Terai region*. The Madheshi-based Sadbhawana Party (SP) decided to abandon the Constituent Assembly over the issue.
Protests over the draft constitution continue after it was approved two months ago following years of disagreements. Since it was introduced, it has attracted criticism from various groups who feel excluded or discriminated and has been the object of several, often violent protest.
In recent weeks, police and residents clashed in the Terai. In Saptari District, a 24-year-old man was shot dead yesterday when police opened fire on protesters.
The young man, together with the other three victims and many demonstrators, was protesting against the decision to divide the country into six provinces without taking into account the presence of minority communities.
The police denied that they were to blame for the violence claiming that it only acted in self-defense when it was attacked by demonstrators. "We fired to contain the situation as the protesters opened fire and hurled petrol bombs at security personnel," said police officer Narayan Prasad Chimoriya.
Home Affairs Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Bamdev Gautam also rejected claims that government officials engaged in gratuitous violence. Instead, he blamed indigenous minority groups and Madheshi political parties for the protests.
"The government appeals to all citizens not to be provoked by any group that is trying to hinder the constitutional promulgation process,” he said.
At least 17 districts in mid-western and far western region are closed for ten days as protest continues. All local transportation and business have come to a complete halt.
Yesterday, the Sadbhawana Party announced its decision to quit the Constituent Assembly after expressing fear that the interests of the Madheshi people and other minorities are not being taken into account.
"The ways federalism was defined in the constitutional draft and the provinces were demarcate will definitely invite conflict, while the ploy is to do away with federalism altogether,” the party stated.
At present, the party has only six members in the constituent assembly.
Christians on the contrary want the draft constitution to be approved as soon as possible to ensure peace and stability.
* The Madheshi (Madhesī) are people of Indian origin who inhabit mostly the eastern Terai of Nepal. Terai is a strip of flatland that occupies the south of the country.