Nepal's prime minister has called a fresh parliamentary election after warring political parties failed to reach an agreement on a new constitution. The deadline for the new statute passed at midnight on Sunday.
Nepal was plunged into a new phase of political instability on Monday after the government failed to meet a deadline to agree on a new federal structure.
In a bid to defuse the crisis, Prime Minister Baburum Bhattarai announced in a midnight television address to the nation that parliament would be disbanded ahead of an election in November.
"Regressive forces prevented us from writing an inclusive constitution on time," the prime minister said.
"We will make an attempt on November 22 to elect a fresh constituent assembly to make another attempt to write a new constitution, which addresses the aspirations of all the people."
"There is no alternative to fresh elections," he added.
The country's Constituent Assembly, which has doubled as a parliament, was elected in 2008 to write the statute in the wake of a 10-year civil war. It had been hoped that it would put an end to the political instability which has plagued Nepal since the end of the Maoist-led war in 2006 and the subsequent overthrow of the monarchy.
Ethnic stumbling blocks
Since then political parties have been battling over whether the country should be divided into states along ethnic lines. A lack of consensus meant the assembly's initial two-year term was extended four times with a final deadline set for midnight on Sunday.
The Constituent Assembly will now disband, although the 601-member body will remain functional in its role as parliament until November's vote.
The call by Maoist Prime Minister Bhattarai for fresh elections has been met by fierce opposition from the other members of the ruling coalition. The leaders of the Nepali Congress, the Unified Marxist Leninist party and the United Democratic Madhesi Front, all argued that the elections would be unconstitutional.
"The Maoists were never serious about discussing the major issues in the constitution, which is why we don't have a constitution today," Nepali Congress leader Ram Chandra Poudel said on Sunday.
Earlier, thousands of people from various ethnic and political groups had gathered outside the parliament in Kathmandu as politicians scrambled - in vain - to reach agreement. More than a dozen people were injured when protesters tried to break a security cordon, prompting police to fire tear gas.
ccp/ncy (AFP, Reuters, dpa)