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Friday, 01 February 2008

Nepal election rally bombedAgence France-Presse . Kathmandu

At least 45 people were wounded in ethnically-tense southern Nepal Wednesday in a bomb attack against a political rally aimed at promoting the country’s peace process, the police said.

The country’s mainstream political parties and former Maoist rebels had organised the rally as part of a joint campaign to prepare for landmark elections planned for April 10.

‘The toll has risen to 45 injured. Two critically injured people have been taken by helicopter to Kathmandu for treatment,’ Yogeshwor Rom Khami, superintendent of police in Birgunj, 80 kilometres south of Kathmandu, said.

‘This might have been done by an armed and radical Mahadhesi group but we have not yet received any claims of responsibility,’ he said.

The town had been hit by several blasts ahead of the rally, with officials blaming ethnic Mahadhesi extremists who have vowed to derail the April polls unless the government agrees to grant the fertile plains region greater autonomy.

Mahadhesis, who make up nearly half of impoverished Nepal’s 27 million population, say they are treated like second-class citizens and that elites from hill areas dominate the government, the police and army.

Around two dozen armed groups have emerged in the southern Terai plain, which borders India, since a 2006 peace deal between Maoist rebels and mainstream parties ended a decade-long civil war.

The April elections – a key part of the peace process – are for a body that will rewrite Nepal’s constitution and are expected to result in the Himalayan nation being declared a republic, formally ending a 239-year-old monarchy led by unpopular King Gyanendra.

The Maoists have accused the king’s allies of involvement in the unrest in the south. Diplomats have also said they suspect hardline Hindu groups across the border in India may also be involved in the unrest.

Earlier this month, the United Nations’ representative to Nepal, Ian Martin, called on the government to take ‘urgent measures’ to address the worsening security situation in the south.

‘Violence and intimidation have no place in a democratic transition, and in particular in Nepal’s Constituent Assembly election process,’ Martin said in a statement after the attack. ‘Political differences must be resolved through peaceful means.

I have no doubt that acts of terror will discredit whatever cause they are claimed to promote.’ Government spokesman and top Maoist official Krishna Banadur Mahara said the bombing would not derail the polls.

‘We condemn the incident but such activities will not put us off from holding the elections,’ he said. Nepal’s elderly prime minister, Girija Prasad Koirala, was also quoted by state media after the blast as promising to ‘fulfil the desires of the Terai people.’

A pro-royal Nepali-language weekly meanwhile published rare comments from the embattled king which were made before the bombing. ‘My wish is that instability be solved through the democratic process,’ the king was quoted as saying.

‘The Nepali people themselves should speak out over where the nation is heading, which direction it is going and why is there hostility.’

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