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Protesters killed as political unrest in Nepal turns bloody

Five demonstrators have died after being shot by police in Nepal, as anger deepens over the country's draft constitution. Marginalized communities have been protesting the plans, saying they would lose power.

For weeks, protesters in Nepal's southern plains have been

agitating against plans to divide the small area into several provinces

, as part of an overhaul envisaged under a new federal constitution that politicians are now finalizing. Historically marginalized communities, including the Madhesi ethnic minority, say the new borders would limit their political representation.

The government and major political parties hope that the constitution, in the works for seven years now, could provide much-needed political stability and bolster economic development in the Himalayan nation, which has been reeling from

two devastating earthquakes

that

killed 8,900 people

this year.

Fatalities increase as Madhesi protesters demand independent state

But more than 20 people have died in protests in total since those plans were first unveiled two weeks ago, with members of two large plains communities demanding greater autonomy under the charter. Nepali police killed five protesters since the beginning of this week alone, as demonstrators threw stones and petrol bombs. Four of the victims were reportedly Madhesis.

Police official Kamal Singh Bam said that protesters in the town of Birgunj were violating a curfew order, and attempted to attack the police station when officers opened fire, killing four. The town is located about eight kilometers (five miles) away from the Indian border and 135 kilometers (80 miles) south of the capital, Kathmandu.

Another protester was killed in Kalaiya, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of Birgunj, when residents there also violated curfew orders imposed to stop violent demonstrations.

A new constitution for a secular state

The growing discord prompted lawmakers from a regional party representing the Madhesis to walk out of the constituent assembly last month and throw their weight behind the protesters.

Devastation after the earthquake in Nepal

The new constitution is expected to bring political stability to Nepal after the devastating earthquake earlier this year

Under the

constitutional proposals

, 22 districts in the southern plains, also known as the Tarai, would be joined with provinces that are dominated by mountain dwellers.

The protesters - mostly from the Madhesi and Tharu minority communities - demanded that their narrow strip of homeland should not be divided into more than two states.

Prime Minister Sushil Koirala has called for talks to tackle the problem, but the protesters insist that the constitutional process must be stopped before any dialogue begins.

A painful past

Lawmakers had begun working on a new national constitution in 2008, two years after the end of the Maoist insurgency, which had left an estimated 16,000 people dead and brought down the 240-year-old Hindu monarchy, ending centuries of inequality in the mountain nation. Nepal was declared a secular republic after its monarchy was abolished, but remains one of the poorest countries in the world.

The monarchs who ruled Nepal promoted Hinduism, and were believed by some to be a reincarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. Hindu groups have started to demand that the Himalayan nation again be declared a Hindu state in the new constitution.

ss/jr (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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