KATHMANDU - Nepal's prime minister has canceled plans to attend a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, his spokesman said on Wednesday, in order to hold talks to end weeks of protests against a new constitution that have killed more than 40 people.
The Himalayan nation adopted the charter on Sunday, in a bid to usher in stability after years of civil war, but its demarcation of provinces has upset people in Nepal's south, who fear the new federal structure will marginalize them.
The decision by Prime Minister Sushil Koirala underscores his government's struggle to quell the protests in the multi-ethnic country that have exposed fault lines kept in check by a 239-year-old Hindu monarchy until its collapse in 2008.
Koirala will not visit New York this week for the U.N. meeting, because of the disturbances, his press officer, Prakash Adhikari, said, but Deputy Prime Minister Prakash Man Singh would go instead.
"The prime minister will hold dialogue with the agitating parties in the Terai in the coming days," Adhikari said, referring to the plains in Nepal's south.
Before that, Koirala planned to consult with the leaders of the country's three major political parties, he added.
Besides the deaths since August in clashes between anti-constitution protesters and security forces, police shot at least three protesters on Monday.
The Madhesi community in Nepal's lowlands, many of whom trace their origins to India, are battling upper-caste elites from the hills who control the country's main political parties.
"Our party put across its bottom line, that the borders of the provinces must be revised before we will halt our agitation," said a spokesman of the group leading the campaign, the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum Nepal.
He was speaking after a meeting with the main political parties that pushed through the charter.
India has been drawn into the political crisis in its neighbor, which acts as a buffer with giant rival China. It has criticized Nepal's political leadership for rushing through the constitution despite the protests.
On Wednesday, India's ambassador to Nepal, Ranjit Rae, met Koirala in the capital, Kathmandu, after the envoy returned from consultations in New Delhi.
Koirala's office declined to comment on the meeting. But the Indian Express newspaper, quoting unnamed sources, said New Delhi was urging Nepal to change the constitution to address the grievances of those in the plains.
Nepal's small parties say the plan to divide parts of the plains and amalgamate them with the hilly regions would perpetuate discrimination against the Madhesi community.