03/07/2017, 15.37
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Nepal police opens fire on protesting Madhesi: four dead and scores wounded

by Christopher Sharma

Clash occurred during a campaign rally by an opposition Communist Party. The tribal minority complains of discrimination and wants an autonomous province. The first local elections in 19 years are set for May.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – Four people have died and scores injured during violent clashes between tribal Madhesi protesters and police.

The incident occurred yesterday in Maleth, Saptari district (south-eastern Nepal), during an election rally by the opposition Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML).

Police opened fire on protesters who were trying to stop the event attended by prominent leaders, including former Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli.

"A crowd of Madhesi attacked the meeting with stones and sticks,” said regional Police Chief Ramesh Bhattarai. “We issued warnings, but when they ignored them we were forced to fire."

Tensions between the Madhesi minority in the country’s Terai region (south Nepal) and the central government have been building up in the past few weeks.

Clashes are nothing new. Two years ago, parliament and the Madhesi sparred over the country’s first secular and democratic constitution.

Then as now, the main issue is the country’s territorial division. Under the new constitution, the ruling parties set up six, then seven provinces. The Madhesi complain that such an administrative division penalises them; for this reason, they want an autonomous province.

This is happening at a time when local elections are scheduled for this May, the first in 19 years. Many parties are concerned about losing in their territorial strongholds. Minorities that feel discriminated are pressing their own demands.

The Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha (SLMM), known in English as the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF), which represents Madhesi political groups, has been organising strikes in several southern cities.

One group of protesters clashed with CPN-UML partisans taking part in the Mechi-Mahakali Campaign, at the Gajendra Narayan Singh the industrial estate​​. The campaign calls for changes to provincial boundaries.

According to the CPN-UML, the Madhesi already have enough constitutional guarantees that protect their rights.

Police boosted security measures against possible clashes. "Had we had not stopped the crowd, they would attack political representatives,” the regional police chief said.

"We condemn all acts of violence and loss of life, but it was necessary to restore peace,” Home Affairs Ministry spokesperson Bal Krishna Panthi said. “We call on all parties to remain calm and show mutual respect.”

"The UML party is responsible for this heinous incident,” said Gajendra Mandal, central secretary of Madhes Samajbadi Party, which is affiliated with the SLMM.

“We were peacefully demonstrating for our rights as guaranteed by the Constitution. Instead, UML leaders continue to persecute and suppress the Madhesi people. We will continue our protest."

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