Nepal police clear protesters from key Indian border crossing, allowing trucks to leave Nepal

Nepalese police removed protesters from a key border point Monday to allow more than 200 vehicles stranded for the past 40 days to cross into India, officials said.

Police official Hobindra Bogati said five protesters were detained when police removed them and the tents they had pitched in the no man's land between the two countries. He said that 205 trucks and other vehicles had crossed from Birgunj, Nepal, to Raxaul, India, and that more were lining up.

However, trucks bringing fuel and other goods to Nepal were still blocked by Indian customs officials.

Members of the ethnic Madhesi people have been protesting Nepal's new constitution, saying it divides the Madhesis among a number of states. The Madhesis, who want the creation of a larger state that they would dominate, have imposed a general strike in southern Nepal and blocked the border crossing, resulting in a severe fuel shortage across Nepal.

At least 45 people have been killed in the protests since August. There is no official count of the injured.

Police raided the protesters' camp before dawn when they were still sleeping, removed the tents and lined up the trucks to leave Nepal. By morning, there were small groups of protesters in the town of Birgunj, but no reports of any violence.

Bogati said police were on alert and would stop any attempt to block the trucks.

On Sunday, talks between the government and Madhesi representatives made some progress.

Following the one-day talks, Deputy Prime Minister Kamal Thapa said the government would address the Madhesis' demand for a larger state through discussions with other political parties.

Initially, the government insisted that the size of states be resolved through a government-appointed commission, but Thapa said it would be discussed as a political issue, as demanded by the protesters.

The government also agreed to the United Democratic Madhesi Front's demands that families of killed protesters be given monetary compensation, that the government pay for medical care for the injured, and that cases against the jailed be withdrawn.