Opposition in Nepal steps up protests to block constitution from being voted

Nepal's opposition parties protested both inside parliament and on the streets Thursday against governing coalition plans to push through a draft of a new constitution, the latest upheaval to roil the Himalayan nation which has been without a charter for the last six years.

The ruling coalition, which makes up more than two-thirds of the 605-member Constituent Assembly, said it is determined to begin voting on the new constitution, citing Thursday's deadline.

"We have tried many times to reach a consensus, but have not been able to do so. In democracy we have to vote," said Jhalnath Khanal of Communist Party of Nepal Unified Marxist Leninist, a coalition member.

A constitution was supposed to have been written by the last Constituent Assembly, which was elected in 2008 following the end of a 10-year Maoist insurgency and the overthrow of the centuries-old monarchy. But the assembly was riven by infighting and never finished its work. The current assembly was chosen in 2013, but has faced the same problem.

Opposition parties, which say the current constitutional draft is not inclusive, shouted slogans inside the assembly hall and prevented Speaker Subash Nemwang from proceeding. Security guards were able to block them, but the meeting was adjourned Thursday and it was unclear when the assembly will reconvene.

There was no violence unlike on Tuesday, when opposition politicians threw chairs and attacked the speaker.

Thousands of opposition supporters also gathered on the streets leading to the assembly, but were held back by riot police and barbed wire barricades. The opposition also imposed a general strike, shutting down schools, transport, markets, and setting fire to several vehicles.

The opposition says a new constitution should be passed only with a consensus of all parties.

The delays have caused resentment from the public and business leaders.

"Disappointment is an understatement. How can the leaders repeatedly make the same mistakes over and over again?" said Saurabh Jyoti of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry.