One person was killed and at least 17 others injured on Sunday in Nepal when a demonstration by ethnic minority groups turned violent hours before the country was set to adopt its first democratic constitution.
The incident occurred about 80 miles southwest of Nepal's capital Kathmandu, near the city of Birgunj. Security forces reportedly opened fire on a group demonstrators that had defied a curfew.
Police officials claimed protesters incited the violence by pelting officers with rocks and debris. "They attacked with stones and glass bottles," Kesheb Raj Ghimire, the chief officer of Nepal's Parsa district, told AFP. Some of the security forces have been injured as well as the demonstrators. The situation here is tense."
Protests were also held in Kathmandu, and video from the scene showed dozens of demonstrators waving black flags and sprinting down the street in defiance of a curfew.
At least 40 protesters have been killed in recent weeks in southern Nepal, where members of the Madhesi and Tharu ethnic groups have taken to the streets to voice concerns that changes imposed by the new constitution will further marginalize them.
Despite the dissent, President Ram Baran Yadav signed the document in Kathmandu on Sunday, nearly a decade after the end of a civil war that abolished Nepal's 240-year-old absolute monarchy but left the government operating without a constitution.
"We believe that the adoption of the new constitution has now opened the path for development of the country," Yadav said.
The new constitution creates seven states in a secular, federal system, but is opposed by groups who want to re-establish Nepal as a Hindu nation. China has welcomed the reforms, hoping for increased stability and growth in the neighboring country. The recent unrest has troubled India, however, and Indian officials have urged Nepal to address the concerns voiced by protesters.
The government has stated that the new constitution can be amended, and that an imperfect document is better than nothing.
"Our country is multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multicultural… this new document will safeguard the rights of all Nepali brothers and sisters," Yadav told Reuters.
Follow Atoosa Moinzadeh on Twitter: @amoinzadeh
Reuters contributed to this report.
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