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Nepal's PM Promises More Representation From Southern Plains


Nepal's government has promised to give people from the southern plains a greater role in shaping the country's future. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the move follows protests in which more than 20 people have died in the past three weeks in the tiny Himalayan country.

Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala has pledged more representation in parliament for the Madhesi community, which lives on a strip of flat, fertile country in Nepal's south. He also said Nepal will be turned into a federal state.

The country's seven-party ruling alliance hopes the announcement made late Wednesday will pacify the Madhesis, who have held violent protests since mid-January. More than 20 people have died and hundreds injured in clashes between police and demonstrators.

It is uncertain that the move will end the turmoil. A Madhesis leader called the prime minister's announcement a positive step, but said it marked only a "partial achievement". He vowed to continue with the protests until the region is granted autonomy.

The protests erupted after the government approved a temporary constitution that drew former Maoist rebels into the political mainstream.

The Madhesis are angry because they say the peace deal with the rebels has ended a civil war, but done little to address their concerns.

The head of Kathmandu's Center for Contemporary Studies, Lok Raj Baral, says many of the grievances of the Madhesi people, who make up more than one-third of the population, are genuine.

"If the population size is taken into account, then they have a very limited number of MPs in parliament. They wanted to increase that on basis of population," said Baral.

The plains dwellers have long complained of being sidelined in favor of the more populated hill regions, which have been the home of most of the country's ruling elites. They say they do not have enough political representation, or jobs in the administration, police and army.

The violence has cast a shadow on a peace process that ended a decade-long Maoist insurgency. Nepal is due to hold elections later this year to elect a body that will frame a new constitution for the country.

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