Madhesis call off blockade protest against new Nepal constitution

Local residents of Nepal and India living near the border cross a bridge at Birgunj, Nepal, on 5 February 2016.

Local residents of Nepal and India living near the border cross a bridge at Birgunj, Nepal, on 5 February 2016. Vehicles have passed through the main border point between the two nations after local residents forcibly removed barriers set up by ethnic protesters who for months have been demanding changes in the new constitution.
AP/Jiyalal Sah


KATHMANDU, Nepal, 8 February 2016

Nepal’s agitating Madhesis on Monday called off their nearly five-month long blockade at the India-Nepal border, bringing relief to the country suffering severe shortages of fuel, medicine and other supplies due to the protests against a new constitution.

“Considering the current crisis facing the nation and the public necessity and aspirations, the ongoing protest programmes of general strike, border blockade, government office shutdown have been called off for now,” said a statement issued after the meeting of United Democratic Madhesi Front leaders.

“The agitation will continue till our demands are addressed,” the statement added.

The announcement to end the border blockade comes ahead of Prime Minister KP Oli’s trip to India on February 19, the first overseas visit of the new Nepalese premier.

The UDMF has announced only three protest programmes including a torch rally, a lathi rally and a people’s vote collection campaign in district headquarters.

Nepal’s Madhesi community, largely of Indian origin, are opposed to the new constitution that divides their ancestral homeland under the seven-province structure and have led an ongoing blockade of key border trade points with India.

The agitating community that shares strong cultural and family bonds with India is demanding demarcation of provinces, fixing of electoral constituencies on the basis of population and proportional representation, and have launched a protest for months that has claimed at least 55 lives.

The agitation by Madhesis in Terai region bordering India paralyzed services in Nepal and triggered huge shortage of essential supplies, including fuel and medicines, as the protesters blocked all border trade points between the two countries.

Except the Raxaul-Birgunj border point, trade has resumed at all other posts. The Raxaul-Birgunj point was opened briefly a couple of days ago, but it was closed again.

The blockade led to strain in the bilateral ties, with Kathmandu accusing New Delhi of imposing an “unofficial blockade”.

However, India maintains that it has imposed no such blockade, and the restrictions are a result of security concerns as Madhesis are protesting the new Constitution in the Terai region of Nepal bordering India.

The UDMF leaders also noted that the comments made by Sadbhawana Party Chairman Rajendra Mahato, a key leader of the agitating alliance, have dealt a blow to the Madhesi agitation.

“As the latest activities and comments of Sadbhawana Party Chairman Mahato have damaged the Madhes agitation, the Madhesi Morcha directs him not to be involved in such activities in the coming days,” the statement said.

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