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Nepal govt hopeful of ending ethnic unrest PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 25 February 2008

Agence France-Presse . Kathmandu

Nepal's government said it was optimistic that negotiations can bring an end to massive ethnic protests in the south of the country, which have left the capital almost without fuel.

A general strike called by the United Democratic Mahadhesi Front has been dragging on for ten days, with at least two protesters killed and scores injured and arrested amid police efforts to reopen a key road.

Ethnic Mahadhesis from the impoverished Terai region want more of a say in how the country is governed, and have blocked the main road from the Indian border to Kathmandu – the corridor for most of Nepal's imports.

'Their six demands are genuine and we are discussing them. We hope we can reach an understanding,' government negotiator Mahesh Acharya said. The demands include compensation for anyone injured or killed in protests, the release of anyone arrested and an end to 'excessive force on protesters.'

The UDMF, which says it represents around half of Nepal's 27 million population, also wants the government to commit to discussing wider political issues. In Nepal, hill-origin elites dominate local and national government as well as the security forces.

The European Union and United Nations have warned that the unrest threatens crucial polls planned for April that will decide Nepal's political future and most likely formally abolish the world's last Hindu monarchy.

'The constituent assembly polls are for everyone and we want all parties to take part,' said government negotiator Acharya, who is from prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala's Nepali Congress party. The polls are a central plank of the landmark peace deal reached in late 2006 between Nepal's ex-rebel Maoists and mainstream parties.

The UDMF missed a deadline for registering candidates earlier this week, but the government told the election commission to extend the deadline until Sunday in the hope that a deal to end the UDMF strike can be reached. Nepal's official human rights body also appealed to both sides to calm down.

'The government has used excessive force in many instances and the protestors have also gone overboard and lost patience,' said Gauri Pradhan, the spokesman of the National Human Rights Commission.

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