People wielding spears and axes killed seven police officers in western Nepal, prompting the government to declare an indefinite curfew on Monday. A two-year-old child also died in the incident, which began as a protest staged by Nepal's minority Tharu population against a proposed new constitution.
"Seven policemen and a child have been confirmed dead," Rajkumar Shrestha, chief district officer said, adding that about 40 other people were injured.
The violence is part of a grassroots pushback against provisions in a new constitution that Nepal's minority groups say would severely limit their political representation. On August 17, a coalition of smaller political parties called for a general strike, and essentially shut down the capital city of Kathmandu. Police arrested 117 protesters in connection with the labor action.
A draft version of the new constitution, presented on Sunday, formalized a proposal to divide the country into seven regions — leaving many of Nepal's marginalized groups as small minorities within these new provinces.
"The main reason for today's sad incident is the haphazard way the major political parties have made the new states," Hridayesh Tripathi, a senior political leader from the country's southern plains, told the Wall Street Journal.
The most recent violence took place in the Kailali district, home to many of Nepal's ethnic Tharu — a minority group that was once functionally enslaved by Nepal's landed elites. Tharu activists oppose the new federal system, and are demanding their own province.
The violence erupted in the town of Tikapur, nearly 260 miles west of the capital Kathmandu, when Tharu demonstrators tried to push past a police line and enter government buildings.
Details about exactly how and why the violence occurred are sketchy. Speaking to Nepal's constitutional committee on Monday, Home Minister Bam Dev Gautam blamed protesters for the violence. "All of a sudden protesters encircled the police and attacked them with knives, axes, sickles, and spears," he said.
But Ram Janam Chaudhary, a politician from the region where the violence took place, told Nepali Times that police opened fire on the protesters, wounding five and leaving two in critical condition.
Ganga Chaudhary, a Tharu legislator, said the incident is the result of marginalization by the government. "Tharus are a peaceful community and we have been putting our demands for an undivided Tharu province peacefully, but our voices were not heard," she told AFP. "This violence is an unfortunate consequence of the rage that has been brewing… if the government listens to Tharus, the situation could calm down."
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Sushil Koiralathrough urged calm. "The possibility of including everybody's demands in the constitution hasn't ended," he said on his official Twitter account. "I urge everybody to come to negotiations for a peaceful solution."
Nepal has been working on a new constitution since 2008, after a Maoist insurgency toppled its longstanding Hindu monarchy. The country's most influential political parties have already endorsed the new constitutional framework, and it will likely be finalized within the next few weeks.
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