Nepal government seeks more time to draw up new constitution

KATHMANDU Tue May 22, 2012 11:46am EDT

1 of 3. Protesters participate in a rally during the three-day long general strike called by the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN) in Lalitpur May 22, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Navesh Chitrakar

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KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepali politicians on Tuesday proposed to ignore a Supreme Court deadline giving them until Sunday to draw up a new constitution for the Himalayan republic, saying they needed more time to agree on the boundaries and names of new states.

The new constitution is widely seen as crucial to helping end instability that has plagued Nepal since the end of a Maoist-led civil war in 2006 and the subsequent overthrow of the monarchy.

The coalition government formally proposed that the Constituent Assembly, which doubles as parliament, be given three more months to try to bridge deep differences that have forced lawmakers to miss several earlier deadlines.

"We are formally registering a proposal in the parliament today (Tuesday) seeking a three month extension of the term of the Constituent Assembly," Deputy Prime Minister Narayankaji Shrestha told reporters after a cabinet meeting.

The parliament is almost certain to pass the proposal in a vote expected before the weekend deadline expires.

The decision to extend the life of the assembly was made on the last day of a three-day, nationwide strike that closed thousands of schools, shuttered businesses and forced vehicles to stay off the roads. There were renewed clashes between protesters and police in the capital and other towns.

Protesters enforcing the strike were demanding that the impoverished country be divided into states along ethnic lines and that the states' names also be ethnically rooted.

Politicians huddled in a Kathmandu government building ringed by barbed wire and surrounded by helmeted police with plastic shields. In other parts of the city and elsewhere in Nepal, protesters stoned or burned vehicles whose drivers defied the strike, police spokesman Binod Singh said.

Slightly larger than Greece, Nepal has more than 100 ethnic groups, many demanding separate provinces. They are backed by small parties, especially in the southern plains region.

Some analysts said politicians had no choice.

"Under the complex political situation in the country it is better to extend its life for a period of three months instead of killing it without producing the constitution," said Lokraj Baral, chief of independent think-tank Nepal Centre for Strategic Studies.

Maoists, who control 40 percent of the 601-seat special assembly tasked to prepare the constitution, say they want to create states "recognizing ethnic identities" of protesting groups.

However, Ram Chandra Paudel, a senior leader of the centrist Nepali Congress party, said the creation of states along ethnic lines would upset social harmony in a country dependent on aid and tourism.

"It is a very difficult situation," Paudel told Reuters. "We are trying hard to avoid further trouble and reach a consensus."

(Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Jeremy Laurence)

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