KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Police in Nepal shot and injured at least three protesters on Monday a day after the Himalayan nation adopted its first democratic constitution, dashing hopes that the historic event would put a stop to weeks of bloodshed in which some 40 people have died.
The demonstrators were in critical condition after police opened fire on an anti-constitution protest in the city of Biratnagar with blanks, rubber bullets and possibly live rounds, said Pramod Kharel, a deputy police superintendent in the Morang district of southern Nepal. A police officer was also wounded by protesters throwing stones, he said.
Nepal’s new constitution was promulgated on Sunday despite fierce opposition from minority groups in the southern plains whose homeland provinces will be split up under the charter.
The violence has heightened tensions with neighboring India, which had called for the new charter to be more inclusive of ethnic groups near its borders, where much of the violence has been focused.
New Delhi offered its “best wishes to the people of Nepal” on Sunday, but stopped short of congratulations on the new constitution.
“India has supported a federal, democratic, republican and inclusive Constitution,” the Foreign Ministry said, adding curtly: “We note the promulgation today of a Constitution.”
India also said it was concerned about the continuing violence in border regions.
Maoist party chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal on Monday told a rally in Kathmandu to celebrate the constitution: “We want friendship with India, not to be its ‘Yes Man’,” according to local media.
Nepal’s government says an imperfect document is better than nothing, and it can be amended to reflect the aspirations of dissenting groups.
Politicians had squabbled for seven years over the charter, but were finally galvanized to finish it by two earthquakes that killed more than 9,000 people in Nepal this year.
It creates seven states in a federal system, but is opposed by groups who want to re-establish Nepal as a Hindu nation, and others who feel it is unfavorable to people in the plains.
Celebrations were held around the country on Monday, including in Biratnagar, scene of the protests earlier in the day. A heavy security presence remained in some places, with a curfew in one district that saw clashes on Sunday.
A top aide to Prime Minister Sushil Koirala stepped down after writing an article last week that suggested India was meddling in Nepal’s affairs.
“Given that the prime minister came under a lot of pressure from some external sources regarding this article, I decided that it would be easier for (him) if I stepped down,” Prateek Pradhan told Reuters.
Nepal’s other large neighbor, China, has welcomed the new constitution.
Writing by Krista Mahr; Editing by Kevin Liffey