Kathmandu sees second day of protests

Kathmandu sees second day of protests

Demonstrators in Nepalese capital demand amendment of country’s new constitution

By Deepak Adhikari

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AA) - Dozens of protesters clashed with police in Kathmandu on Monday on the second day of a demonstration held to demand the amendment of Nepal’s new constitution.

Around 1,000 protesters chanted slogans and waved flags, converging in three roads leading to the offices of Nepal’s central government.

As demonstrators marched forward, they faced hundreds of security forces in riot gear, leading to a brief clash in Maitighar, a roundabout in the city that also serves as a popular protest venue.

The protesters are led by the Madhesi people from Nepal’s southern plains, along with other ethnic minorities who claim the country’s new constitution is discriminatory.

In a statement issued on Sunday, a spokesperson for the Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum -- one of 27 parties taking part in the protests -- accused police of unfairly cracking down on demonstrators.

"Thousands of our supporters who had been en route to the protest were stopped for between seven and eight hours; they were asked unnecessary questions and their flags were seized," group spokesman Parshuram Tamang said in the statement.

"The government has violated the universally accepted right to travel without obstruction," he asserted. "We strongly condemn this cowardly act of the government."

But a senior police officer overseeing the deployment of security forces in the capital denied the allegations.

Sharad Chand, a senior superintendent of the Kathmandu Metropolitan Police, told Anadolu Agency that protesters had been armed with batons and other home-made weapons.

"We haven’t made any arrests," Chand said. "We have seized neither flags nor banners. These are routine checks done by the police."

He conceded, however, that the local authorities had issued "prohibitory orders" in certain areas near the government headquarters, the parliament building and the president’s office.

Protesters say that their next demonstration will be held outside Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s personal residence.

Oli, for his part, who came to power last October, has criticized the protests for causing hardships and impeding traffic.

"The government wants to resolve the problem through dialogue," Oli was quoted as saying by Nagarik, a leading Nepali-language newspaper.

"We have repeatedly sent requests to the protesters to come to the negotiating table," he added.

The protests -- which started countrywide last September after the government promulgated a post-war constitution -- have seen 60 people killed, including nine police officers.

Many of last year’s demonstrations were organized at border crossings in the country’s southern plains, triggering crippling shortages of daily commodities in Nepal, which depends on India for most of its imports.

Nepal’s coalition government, meanwhile, has accused India of imposing a blockade to help the protesters -- a charge New Delhi denies.

The demonstrators and government have held several rounds of talks, but have failed to reach a mutually-acceptable agreement over federal boundaries and the representation of minorities in state institutions.

In January, Nepal’s parliament amended the constitution with a view to addressing protesters’ demands.

Demonstrators, however, say the changes didn’t go far enough.

After widespread criticism of the demonstrations, the dissidents have now changed tactics, holding largely peaceful protests in Kathmandu to press the government to meet their demands.

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