Nepal government, protesters discuss size of states

AP News
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Posted: Oct 07, 2015 7:00 AM

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Negotiators from Nepal's government and the main group protesting the country's new constitution discussed the main issue of the size of proposed states on Wednesday, but said little progress was made in their second day of talks.

The United Democratic Madhesi Front insisted on immediate changes to the size of the states specified in the constitution, while government negotiators said changes could only be made through an appropriate legal process.

Both sides agreed to discuss the issue among themselves and meet again Friday.

The constitution approved last month divides Nepal into seven new states, with some borders slicing through the Madhesis' ancestral homeland in the southern plains along the border with India. Ethnic Madhesis, along with several other small ethnic groups, want the states to be larger and to be given more autonomy over local matters.

"They have said the state is the main issue on which we need to reach an agreement, but we told them that this needs to be done through a process following the constitution," government minister Mahesh Acharya told reporters after Wednesday's meeting.

Acharya said changes to the seven states can only be made by a commission that needs to be set up.

"The government or a party is not able to take such a decision right away on the state issue. It is a serious political matter," Acharya said.

The United Democratic Madhesi Front said it was happy that progress on some of its preconditions had been achieved by the government. Prime Minister Sushil Koirala visited wounded protesters at a hospital Tuesday and ordered free treatment for them.

However, they said they could not end their protests near the border until progress is made on their main political demand.

The protests have left more than 45 people dead and have halted the flow of fuel and supplies to the country's north, including the capital.

The Madhesis have close cultural ties with India, which has been supporting them and imposed an unofficial blockade which stopped the flow of oil and other essential supplies across the border.

Nepal obtains most of its fuel and other vital supplies from India. Huge lines have formed at gasoline stations, many schools have shut down, shoppers are seeing shortages of vegetables, and hospitals are running low on medicine.

Indian officials deny there is a blockade and say drivers are afraid to enter Nepal. Nepalese authorities say there is no trouble at many cross-border checkpoints.