World

Nepal arrests 60 over constitution protest

Nepalese police clash with activists campaigning for the country to be declared a Hindu state in Kathmandu on July 21, 2015. Dozens were injured in demonstration across the country as lawmakers kicked off public discussions on the draft of a long-awaited constitution. AFP PHOTO/ Prakash MATHEMA

KATHMANDU: Police in Nepal arrested 60 Maoist activists Friday for forcing schools and public transport to shut down in a nationwide protest over government plans to bring in a new constitution.

Authorities deployed hundreds of security personnel in Kathmandu for the first national strike since a devastating quake hit the country in April.

Nepal's Maoists struck a deal with rival parties on a new constitution last month after years of bitter disagreement, spurred by an earthquake that killed more than 8,800 people in the Himalayan nation.

But a breakaway faction of the party says the deal betrays the principles of the Maoists, who fought a decade-long civil war with the state that ended in 2006 and led to the abolition of a centuries-old feudal monarchy.

"The draft is against the people and the spirit and hopes of the people's war," their spokesman Khadga Bahadur Bishwokarma told AFP, referring to the conflict.

"The constitution does not address the problems of the ethnic, racial and gender discrimination that we fought against."

Dozens have been injured this week in clashes between police and protesters angered by the terms of the draft constitution.

A key sticking point concerns internal borders, with the opposition pushing for new provinces to be created along lines that could favour historically marginalized communities.

Other parties have attacked this model, calling it a threat to national unity.

There were no reported casualties in Friday's protest, but police said they had detained 13 men carrying plastic water bottles filled with petrol.

"We have arrested 60 cadres in Kathmandu for trying to block roads and planning to vandalize cars," police spokesman Bishwo Raj Pokharel told AFP.

The strike emptied Kathmandu's usually packed roads of traffic and many Nepalis expressed frustration over the impact on livelihoods already devastated by the quake.

"I am tired of strikes. It is people like us who suffer... whenever there is a strike, there is no work and we go hungry," said daily wage labourer, Karma Tamang.

Bank official, Nisha Shrestha, told AFP she was walking to work, defying the strike call.

"It makes me angry that at a time when we are trying to recover from an earthquake, these people want to trouble us more with strikes," the 28-year-old said.

 

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