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China to supply fuel to Nepal after protesters block deliveries from India

Beijing is set to send about 100 tanker trucks of gasoline to fuel-starved Nepal, officials say. The move comes after protesters from Nepal's Madhesi minority blocked off the key border crossing with India.

Nepal and China agreed on the large donation after a month-long standoff at the Indian border, a Nepali official said Sunday.

This is the first time in history that China is supplying Nepal with fuel, a task usually reserved for Beijing's' regional rival, New Delhi.

"China has agreed to send us 1,000 metric tons, or 1.3 million liters of petrol, as a grant," said Sushil Bhattarai, acting deputy managing director at the state-run Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC).

Protesters from Nepal's Madhesi have blocked off the bridge checkpoint at Birgunj crossing, 90 kilometres (55 miles) south of the capital Kathmandu, decrying the country's new constitution.

The blockade has left scores of trucks carrying vital supplies stranded, and forced Nepal authorities to ration fuel in the country, which is still reeling from the devastating April earthquake.

Nepal blames India

The constitution, which the lawmakers approved last month, divides the Himalayan country into seven states or provinces.

However, different ethnic groups, most prominently the Madhesi and Tharu minorities, claim that the new charter leaves them with little representation in the government. The issue has sparked violent protests, with more than 40 people dying in clashes during the last several months.

India has close cultural and linguistic ties with the Madhesis living in Nepal's border regions, and New Delhi officials have urged dialogue between the central government and the protesters to resolve the crisis.

Kathmandu has accused India of being behind the protests, which India denies.

The fuel from China would arrive through a recently repaired border crossing in the Himalayas, Nepal officials said. They said it would take some 100 tanker trucks to transport it to Kathmandu.

dj/tj (AFP, AP)

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