Anti-constitution strikes in southern Nepal turn violent


– Protests against a reorganization of political borders that many say will leave them without a voice turned violent in Nepal Saturday, as police and protesters clashed in Sunsari district in south-eastern Nepal, authorities said.

Police and protesters clashed in Duhabi after demonstrators interrupted a peace rally, according to the chief district office of Sunsari. Police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd.

It wasn’t clear how many people were hurt in the clash. An ambulance also came under attack by protesters, during which the driver was injured, according to the local media.

Demonstrations against the changes, included in a new constitution, have shut down a variety of towns in the southern plains of Nepal, crippling markets and transportation. Schools have been shut for months.

At issue is the federal structure in the new constitution that changes borders on a variety of governmental districts.

Protesters from the Madheshi community – which has affinities with northern India – say they want a separate state dedicated to their community. But politicians at the centre have been resisting, saying it would make the Madheshi community powerful and undermine the other ethnic groups that reside in the plains.

In Biratnagar district, a passenger bus was attacked by protesters. In Nawalparasi district, two motorbikes were vandalized. In Birganj, two motorbikes were torched.

In Janakpur, a man was injured when a bomb exploded in a residential area. Police said they were not sure who planted the bomb.

The Terai region has seen 89 days of strikes, which has had a severe impact on not just the plains, but on the rest of Nepal, as India closed the border between the two countries citing security reasons.

Imports from India to Nepal, notably petrol, have been blocked for the last three months, with the border effectively closed due to what India has called security concerns. Almost 50 people have been killed in violence during the protests.

The United Nations has expressed concern about the “blocking of essential supplies on the Nepal-India border,” according to a statement.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said he was “alarmed by reports of the obstruction, and destruction, of life-saving medical supplies and the continued impact on humanitarian operations.”

Ban called on all sides to lift restrictions without further delay and urged dialogue and non-violence.

However, the talks between the government and the protesting sides in Nepal has seen little success, as the demonstrators say they will not back down unless the government amends the constitution to give them more autonomy in the new constitution.

As the protests continued on Saturday, the three main parties were deliberating ways to amend the federal structure.

The anti-constitution protests began in the plains as soon as the government released the draft constitution in early August, before promulgating it on September 20th.

A new constitution was a requirement of the Comprehensive Peace Accord signed by the government and the Maoists in 2006, which put an end to a decade-long constitution.

On Friday, Nepal’s Central Bank said that the country’s economic growth rate could turn to negative for the first time in 33 years.