KATHMANDU (AFP) – Fighting broke out in Nepal’s parliament Tuesday, with Maoist lawmakers throwing chairs and injuring four security officers as tensions ran high ahead of a deadline to complete a new national constitution.
Hours later, police arrested more than 50 protesters who set fire to buses and taxis in an effort to enforce a nationwide shutdown called by the Maoists to protest moves to complete the constitution.
The opposition Maoist party is seeking to prevent Nepal’s ruling coalition from pushing proposals through parliament without common agreement before Thursday’s deadline.
They say discussions on the constitution should continue until a final agreement is reached – even if that means missing the deadline.
Tuesday’s strike shut down factories, shops, schools and public transport in the Himalayan nation, which has endured prolonged political limbo since 2006, when the Maoists ended their decade-long insurgency.
The usually gridlocked streets of Kathmandu remained clear during morning rush hour as many people heeded the Maoist call to stay home in the capital, where 6,000 police have been deployed.
Despite extensive discussions, Nepal’s lawmakers have failed to agree on a charter and have missed a series of deadlines.
They are widely expected to miss Thursday’s cut-off, further deepening popular disillusionment with the political process of the young republic.
Disagreements persist on crucial issues, with the opposition calling for new provinces to be created along lines that could favour historically marginalised communities such as the “untouchable” Dalit caste and the Madhesi ethnic minority.