Nepal ethnic groups in fresh protests against constitution

Kathmandu (AFP) - Hundreds of members of Nepal's ethnic minorities blocked roads in the capital on Sunday in renewed protests calling for changes to the Himalayan nation's controversial new constitution.

Demonstrators carrying flags and chanting slogans pushed up against a police cordon in Kathmandu's administrative centre in protests against the charter, which they say leaves them politically marginalised.

"The government is not serious about our demands and is moving forward independently, even reversing the agreements we have reached in the past," said Upendra Yadav, chairman of a regional party representing the Madhesi community.

No injuries were reported in the protests, which restarted in the capital on Sunday in a fresh push to amend the constitution adopted last September.

More than 50 people were killed in previous clashes between police and opponents of the charter.

Madhesi demonstrators also blocked a major cross-border trade route, sparking a national shortage of fuel and other supplies from neighbouring India. The crisis was only resolved in February.

"We want equality for all ethnic groups in Nepal but the government is not listening to us. That is why we are here," said 35-year-old Somati Tharu, who travelled to Kathmandu from southern Nepal to join the protests.

The constitution, the first drawn up by elected representatives, was meant to cement peace and bolster Nepal's transformation to a democratic republic after decades of political instability and a 10-year Maoist insurgency which ended in 2006.

But several rounds of talks between the government and the protesting parties have failed to secure agreement.

In an attempt to resolve the issue, parliament in January amended the constitution to increase the presence of marginalised communities in government bodies.

But protesters say the amendments do not address their main demand -- changes to internal state borders laid out in the constitution. They say the current borders limit their representation in parliament.

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