Nepal police arrest dozens in anti-charter protests

Kathmandu (AFP) - Nepal police on Monday arrested dozens of people protesting against a proposed new constitution after they attacked vehicles and forced shops to close on the second day of a nationwide strike.

The shutdown was called to protest plans to restructure Nepal as a federal state with six provinces, which opposition parties say discriminates against historically marginalised communities.

"We have arrested 51 cadres (party supporters) for forcing shops to shut down and vandalising vehicles," police spokesman Kamal Singh Bam told AFP.

"They tried to torch two vehicles in the Kathmandu valley before police intervened," Bam said.

Work on the constitution began in 2008 following the end in 2006 of a decade-long Maoist insurgency that left an estimated 16,000 people dead and brought down the 240-year-old Hindu monarchy.

Negotiations faltered on the issue of internal borders and lawmakers only reached agreement after a devastating earthquake in April.

But the plans are opposed by many in Nepal's midwest and southern plains, where hundreds staged violent protests over the long-awaited constitution last week. Two people were killed when police opened fire on demonstrators.

The latest strike was called by the CPN-Maoists, a breakaway faction of the Maoist party, and by parties representing minority groups.

"Our demand is that they should cancel this anti-people draft and write a constitution that reflects the people's aspirations and demands," Pampha Bhusal, spokeswoman for the CPN-Maoists, told AFP.

The shutdown saw traffic on Kathmandu's usually packed roads reduced to a trickle.

Many Nepalis expressed frustration over the strike and its impact on livelihoods already devastated by April's quake that killed nearly 8,900 people.

"I can't shut down my business every time someone decides to call a strike," said Min Bahadur Karki, who owns a hardware store in the capital.

"Everyone has their own interests, there is no way the constitution will satisfy all of them," Karki told AFP.

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