Kathmandu: Nepal police shot dead four Indian-origin Madhesis blockading a key highway in Terai over the new Constitution as violence returned to the country already reeling under acute shortage of essential goods, prompting India to express "distress" at the loss of lives.
The agitating Joint Democratic Madhesi Front on Sunday claimed that four of its cadres were killed and dozens of protesters injured in the police firing in Saptari late last night.
However, the police have confirmed only two deaths.
The Madhesis were participating in a blockade of the nation's main East-West Highway in Saptari district, some 280 kilometres southeast of the capital.
An indefinite curfew was clamped down following the deaths as police said they resorted to firing after the nearly 2,500-strong crowd attacked them with petrol bombs and bricks when they tried to forcibly remove the protesters.
The Madhesis were killed during clashes between the agitators and the security personnel, who were escorting vehicles carrying passengers, police said about the incident that has raised fears of further political turmoil in Nepal.
Yesterday's clashes injured as many as 17 protesters and 25 police personnel, of whom five protesters and two policemen are said to be in serious condition.
The protesters started pelting stones at the security personnel which led to the clashes, Saptari District Police Office Chief Bhim Dhakal said.
"We had to use force to disperse the mob of protesters after they inadvertently started attacking the security personnel with homemade weapons," Dhakal said.
The violence comes as the landlocked country, heavily dependent on India for supplies of essential goods, continues to reel under acute shortage of fuels, medicines and other items for over two months now.
Nepal has accused India of siding with the protesters and meddling in its internal affairs, a charge New Delhi denies.
Expressing concern over the fresh violence, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup, who is now in Malaysia accompanying Prime Minister Narendra Modi, tweeted that India was "distressed at loss of lives in police firing in Saptari".
"Political solution (was) required" in resolving the differences over the new Constitution which Madhesis - the Indian-origin inhabitants of Nepal's Terai region - are protesting over division of their ancestral homeland.
Nepal was limping to normalcy after the devastating April
25 quake but has been hit by the blockade led by Madhesis, who are also demanding proportionate representation in government mechanism, allocation of Parliament seats on the basis of population and re-demarcation of the federal provinces.
Federal Alliance, an alliance of nine political parties including Madhesis and indigenous ethnic groups, have agreed to launch a month-long joint protest programme in different parts of the country beginning tomorrow to press for their demands for more rights and representation.
Over 40 people have been killed in the violent agitation that has also overwhelmed Indo-Nepal ties as transit of goods and fuel to the Himalayan nation has been badly affected.
A local media report said that fresh police firing in Rajbiraj district killed one more protester this evening but the death could not be immediately verified.
Meanwhile, the country that witnessed massive devastation due to powerful temblors and hundreds of aftershocks was today again jolted by a 4.1-magnitude quake in western areas.
Yesterday's violence came a day after UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon said he is "alarmed" over obstruction and destruction of medical supplies to Nepal due to the ongoing blockade of key border trade points with India and called on all sides to resolve differences through dialogue.
Madhesi protesters in Nepal on Friday had torched an ambulance and a truck carrying medicines worth over Rs two million imported from India near the border.
Nepal has turned to China for fuel, ending India's monopoly over the supplies to the landlocked Himalayan nation, and is set to seal its first oil trade deal with Beijing that has pledged to provide the petroleum products at an affordable price.
The violence also affected proceedings in the Parliament, with lawmakers belonging to Madhes-based parties protesting against the police firing, following which today's meeting was postponed till Thursday.
Lawmakers from the agitating Joint Democratic Madhesi Front surrounded the rostrum and shouted slogans after the Speaker, Onsari Gharti Magar, refused to grant time to Terai Madhes Democratic Party lawmaker Sarbendra Nath Shukla.
They also demanded stern action against security personnel who were involved in the shooting last night at Saptari in which two Madhesis were killed, local media reported.