Nepal PM asking president to start process to form new government

Kathmandu (AFP) - Nepali Prime Minister Sushil Koirala on Friday said he would ask the president to begin the process of choosing his successor and forming the next government, following the country's adoption of a new constitution last month.

"According to my public commitment and the present provisions of the constitution... I will ask the respected president to take forward the constitutional process to choose the new prime minister," Koirala told parliament.

Koirala had pledged to step down after the constitution -- Nepal's first to be drawn up by elected representatives -- was adopted on September 20.

It marked the final stage in a peace process that began when Maoist rebels laid down their arms in 2006 after a decade-long insurgency.

The charter was meant to end years of inequality and cement peace but bitter disputes over its provisions have sparked deadly protests and a blockade of a key trade route by demonstrators that has forced nationwide fuel rationing.

More than 40 people have been killed in clashes between police and protesters representing ethnic minorities who say a new federal structure laid out in the constitution will leave them under-represented in the national parliament.

"I call on (protesting parties) to sit for dialogue and talks and solve the disagreements," Koirala said.

He said the cabinet had agreed to suggest amendments to a key constitutional provision criticised by protesters, in a bid to bring them on board.

The protesters, who belong to the Madhesi ethnic minority largely based in Nepal's southern plains, want to increase their community's representation in government bodies through proportional representation.

"We have all accepted that the present constitution will ensure the right of representation and participation in (government bodies)... on the basis of the principles of proportional inclusion," Koirala said.

"The cabinet has approved and directed the Ministry of Law, Justice, Constituent Assembly and Parliamentary Affairs to prepare the constitution amendment bill," he said.

The protesters also want lawmakers to amend the new internal borders and lift a ban on naturalised citizens holding senior positions in government that they say will disproportionately affect them.

Nepal's Madhesis have long complained of discrimination and many were denied citizenship, rendering them stateless, until a 2006 law that allowed non-Nepali speakers born and raised in the country to become naturalised citizens.

- Search for consensus candidate -

Protesters have been blocking a bridge in Birgunj, 90 kilometres (55 miles) south of Kathmandu, since September 24, cutting off vital supplies including food and oil from India to the landlocked Himalayan nation.

Nepali customs officials said the flow of goods through other checkpoints in the southern plains, home to half the country's population, had begun to pick up after a slowdown.

"The situation is easing up on several routes and vehicles are coming across the border," said Sishir Kumar Dhungana, Director General, Department of Customs.

Nepal's President Ram Baran Yadav is expected to reach out to political parties and ask them to agree on a consensus candidate for the role within seven days.

If parties fail to reach a deal, parliament will vote to choose Koirala?s successor in the coming weeks.

Work on the new constitution began in 2008 after the Maoists won parliamentary elections and abolished the monarchy. But power-sharing squabbles between parties stymied progress.

Lawmakers finally reached agreement in June this year, spurred by a massive earthquake two months earlier that killed nearly 8,900 people and left half a million people homeless.