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Nepal prime minister convenes emergency meeting

Nepal prime minister convenes emergency meeting

Nepal's prime minister convened an emergency meeting of the ruling alliance and former Maoist rebels yesterday as violent unrest threatened to derail a fast-moving peace process aimed at ending a decade-old civil war.
Dozens of government offices and buses were torched over the weekend by ethnic Madhesi peoples of the southern plains after a Maoist activist shot dead a 16-year-old boy during a Madhesi demonstration against a recently passed interim constitution.
Transport strike
The violence in the southeastern town of Lahan sparked a transport strike that paralyzed much of the Himalayan kingdom yesterday as Nepal's Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala met with leading politicians.
The strike was called by transport companies to protest against the attacks on their vehicles.
The Madhesi People's Rights Forum, which organized the demonstration, opposes the new constitution, which incorporates Maoists into the political mainstream after an insurgency against the monarchy in which over 13,000 people were killed.
Risk of conflict
They say it offers little for people living in the southern plains, which is impoverished Nepal's breadbasket. They want more jobs and funds from the central government.
"The concerns of the people living in the Terai should be adequately addressed in the interim constitution," defense analyst Bishnu Raj Upreti said. "Otherwise there is a risk of a serious conflict breaking out between the people from the hills and the plains," he said.
"This could develop as a separatist movement if not properly addressed in time," Upreti added.
The government says forces opposed to the peace deal were conspiring to create the unrest.
Cultural links
The Madhesh region, which is also known as Terai, is a narrow, fertile strip of southern Nepal. It holds about half of the country's population and many people have closer cultural links to nearby India than to Nepal's highlands.
Two groups of Janatantrik Terai Liberation Front that broke away from the main Maoists in 2004 have also separately launched a violent campaign in the troubled region.
The groups are seeking autonomy for the region saying people there should be allowed to take charge of the military, the police and the local administration.
Peace process
English daily the Kathmandu Post urged the government and Maoists to quickly defuse the tension in Lahan.
"There is a serious risk of exploitation of the awakening of Terai by some vested interest groups who wish to derail the peace process," it said.
Dinesh Bhandari, president of the Federation of Nepali National Transport Entrepreneurs, an umbrella group of transport operators demanded compensation for many buses torched during the recent protests.
"There should be adequate security for our vehicles as well as drivers and other staff," he said.
In a separate incident, six policemen were injured when 200 Maoists carrying batons and stones attacked a police post on Saturday at Patabhar in southwest Nepal.