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Updating with report of Biratnagar under curfew

dpa German Press Agency
Published: Thursday January 25, 2007

Kathmandu,- Violent protests in south-eastern Nepal over
demands for equality by the ethnic Madhesi community spread to two
major regional towns Thursday, prompting authorities to impose a
day-long curfew.
Authorities clamped a curfew on Birgunj and Janakpur following
violent clashes in the course of protests by supporters of the
Madhesi People's Rights Forum (MPRF).

The state-owned Nepal Television said Biratnagar, which had seen
sporadic violence for the past few days, was placed under a six-hour
curfew Thursday following rapid deterioration of law and order.

Biratnagar, about 150 kilometres south-east of Kathmandu, is a
major industrial town near the Indian border.

Officials at the District Administration Office of Parsa said
Birgunj, a major commercial border town about 90 kilometres south of
the Nepalese capital, would be under nine-hour curfew Thursday.

The flare-up in violence came a day after Maoist leader Prachanda,
whose real name is Pushpa Kamal Dahal, described the MPRF as a "group
with links to criminal organisations" and that there was point in
holding talks with them.

The violence first flared up in the south-eastern town of Lahan,
about 140 kilometres south-east of the capital, after Maoist
activists shot dead a MPRF supporter.

The Maoists, after initially accepting involvement in the
shooting, now reject the allegation, saying the protests are being
infiltrated by "royalist supporters bent on trying to destabilised
constituent assembly elections" scheduled for mid-June.

Authorities also imposed a day-long curfew in the town of
Janakpur, 125 kilometres south of the Nepalese capital, following
clashes between supporters of MPRF, Maoists and police.

Reports said demonstrators set fire to several offices and shops
in Janakpur town.

Meanwhile, the MPRF vowed to continue its protests until all their
demands, including changes to the interim constitution, were met.

At least five people have died in the week long violence so far.
All the deaths occurred in Lahan which has been under curfew for the
seventh day.

The latest violence in two major towns are the clearest indication
yet of the unrest spreading to large areas of southern and
south-eastern Nepal where, there there are large numbers of ethnic
Madhesi people of Indian origin.

Meanwhile, the MPRF has vowed to continue its protest programmes
despite government offers of talks to defuse the crisis.

The MPRF said in a statement: "The indefinite strike will continue
until the constitution is changed to address our issues and concerns."

The group is also calling for a public apology by the prime
minister and the Maoist leader Prachanda as well as the resignation
of the home minister over the violence in Lahan.

Political observers in the Nepalese capital say the situation is
fast deteriorating in south-eastern Nepal and has the potential of
assuming a communal dimensions if the issue is not addressed soon.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala called on the
MPRF along with a Maoist splinter group Janatantrik Terai Muki Morcha
(JTMM) for talks to end the crisis.

© 2006 - dpa German Press Agency