KATHMANDU • Nepalese police shot and killed an Indian citizen at a border checkpoint yesterday as they tried to clear protesters whose blockade has strangled Nepal's fuel supplies and badly damaged relations between the neighbours.
Nepal has faced an acute fuel crisis for more than a month since protesters in the lowland south, angered that a new Constitution has failed to reflect their interests, prevented supply trucks from entering from India.
Many in Nepal see India's hand in the protests although it denies any role. With the landlocked Himalayan nation of 28 million recovering from its worst earthquake on record, the government has turned to China for extra fuel. Officials said some Chinese oil was due to arrive in Kathmandu late yesterday.
Hundreds of stick-wielding protesters battled with police near the border crossing, known as the "friendship bridge", in Birgunj district, television pictures showed.
District police superintendent Raju Babu Shrestha said the protesters threw petrol bombs and stones at a police post, prompting them to "fire in self defence".
"One protester, an Indian national, who was attacking the police post with the petrol bomb, was killed in the firing," Supt Shrestha said, adding that the man was killed a few hundred metres from the border crossing.
More than 20 people, including 15 police officers, were injured in the clash, he said.
Indian foreign ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup said India was deeply concerned about the violence in which "an innocent Indian" was killed.
He said Indian fuel-truck drivers were advised not to put themselves in danger.
Police beat up demonstrators this morning and burned down our tents.
MR SHIVA PATEL, general secretary of the regional Sadbhawana party, which participated in the blockade
Protests over a new Constitution turned violent in August, and more than 40 people have been killed as southern plains dwellers objected to seeing their lands divided and included in several federal states dominated by mountain communities.
The Constitution was nonetheless adopted on Sept 20, paving the way for the formation of a government headed by Prime Minister K. P. Oli, who has failed to calm passions that have paralysed economic and political life.
Earlier yesterday, police cleared protesters staging a sit-in on the bridge but a protest leader said they had reoccupied it and five people had been hurt. "Police beat up demonstrators this morning and burned down our tents, forcibly opening the border to allow trucks to move across," said Mr Shiva Patel, general secretary of the regional Sadbhawana party, which participated in the blockade.
Police said 219 empty trucks had been cleared to return to India but that none had entered from India.
Nepal has historically sourced all its fuel from India, but the movement of cargo across Birgunj, around 90km south of Kathmandu, and other Indian border checkpoints slowed to a crawl since the protests kicked off on Sept 24. It has prompted the authorities in Kathmandu to accuse New Delhi of backing the demonstrators and imposing an "unofficial blockade" to register its dissatisfaction with the new Constitution.
New Delhi has denied the claims and has urged dialogue with the Madhesi protesters, who have close cultural, linguistic and family ties to Indians living across the border.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE