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    » 05/16/2012, 00.00

    NEPAL

    Whole regions without food as strikes and protests are held against the new constitution

    Kalpit Parajuli

    Demonstrations have plunged the country into chaos. A 19-day general strike has grounded air transport to the western districts. More than 30 people have been hurt in clashes between indigenous groups and opponents of federalism. Ban Ki-Moon calls on Nepal to respect minorities in the new constitution.

    Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - Strikes, demonstrations and clashes with police have plunged Nepal into chaos a week before the new federal constitution is supposed to come into force. Most of the violence has been reported in the country's western districts and in the Terai region. In both areas, ethnic minorities have been fighting for autonomy for years. Yesterday, United Nations Secretary General , Ban Ki-moon called on the members of the constituent assembly to heed the demands of Nepal's ethnic and religious minorities.

    In the Far Western Development Region, a general strike against the region's division has paralysed it for the past 19 days. No planes have been able to fly in and out of local cities and remote villages.

    Local sources said that in mountain areas people have run out of food and drugs that can only be brought in by plane or helicopter. The lives of thousands of children and old people are at risk.

    In Jumla, "People are coming to buy rice but our stock has completely run out," said Narendra Pariyar, who is the local deputy chief district officer. Local authorities are also unable to do anything because rescue helicopters are grounded by the strike.

    Clashes between pro-division indigenous Tharu and pro-union activists are making matters worse. After days of peaceful demonstrations, the two groups clashed yesterday in Jumla District. More than 30 people were injured, including 11 police agents.

    Many fear more violent demonstrations. Locals are afraid of leaving home and want police to enforce law and order.

    In the southern region of Terai, indigenous Madhesi, Gurung and Magar are planning demonstrations and strikes. The Nepal Federation of Indigenous and Nationalities has called for a general strike in the region's 22 districts.

    Its goal is to force the Maoist-dominated constituent assembly to pay attention to the problems of ethnic minorities, living on the margins of society.

    The new constitution was drafted after the establishment of a secular state in 2007 following 11 years of civil war between Maoist guerrillas and the monarchy. It is expected to be approved on 28 May.

    However, various groups are protesting, putting pressures in favour or against federalism. Political parties are also divided over the issue and over the number of federated states.

    Tensions are also running high between the Hindu majority and the country's 60 or so ethnic and religious minorities, which demand protection and rights in the new constitutional charter.

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    See also

    22/05/2006 NEPAL
    Nepal is secular state: minorities happy

    According to minority groups, the historic decision of parliament is "revolutionary and democratic". The 1990 constitution had described the country as a "Hindu state".



    16/05/2006 NEPAL
    From Hindu kingdom to secular state

    The premier has accepted to consider the request of several local ethnic groups to declare the country as a secular state. A local activist said: "Only a secular Nepal can put an end to the explicit and implicit discriminations suffered by minorities".



    29/05/2006 NEPAL
    Hindus protest "secular" status of Nepal

    Around 10,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Birgunj in the south of the country. A Hindu democracy activist sees the hand of the monarchists behind the protests.



    03/08/2011 NEPAL
    Nepalese Muslims pray for tolerance during Ramadan
    Islamic leaders preach respect for other religious communities. The country still debates choice of a secular state or a return to a Hindu monarchy.

    20/07/2010 NEPAL
    Christians in Nepal from marginalized to political actors
    Protestant and Catholic leaders want more space in institutions in response to political and economic stalemate that has afflicted the country for months. Bishop Sharma in Kathmandu, says: "No leader has displayed a genuine interest in people. It's high time for the Christians in Nepal to engage actively in politics".



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