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Nepal rival parties strike historic constitutional deal

After years of deadlock, Nepal's rival political parties have reached a constitutional deal that will divide the country into eight provinces. The crucial question over borders remains an issue, however.

The agreement was signed by leaders of the four main political parties, including the Maoist United Communist Party of Nepal, the country's main opposition faction, at Prime Minister Sushil Koirala's residence late on Monday.

On Tuesday, Information Minister Minendra Rijal described the agreement as a "major breakthrough" for one of the world's poorest countries.

The agreement on the constitution, which was due to be drafted in 2010, was repeatedly postponed because of partisan political fighting. An estimated 16,000 people have been killed in the decade-long Maoist insurgency, which also brought down the monarchy. The recent 7.8-magnitude earthquake, which killed more than 8,800 people, motivated the rival parties to pull together, however.

"After the first quake, things changed. Parties seem to have realized that they need to work together to rebuild the country," newspaper editor Guna Raj Luitel said on Tuesday.

Under the deal, Nepal will continue to be governed under its current system with an executive prime minister and a ceremonial president.

Fears over provincial borders

A new federal commission will now be responsible for drawing up the internal borders of the eight provinces before they are submitted to parliament for approval. Critics of the new deal believe the currently unresolved issue could still create further problems.

The Maoist party has long pushed for greater devolution of powers away from Nepal's capital and province borders, which could favor historically marginalized countries. Others, however, believe the Maoist's proposals could be too divisive and threaten national unity.

Lawmakers said the draft of the final constitution, which must be approved by a two-thirds parliamentary majority, would be ready next month.

ksb/bw (AFP, AP)