Kathmandu: Nepal`s former Maoist premier Baburam Bhattarai on Saturday resigned from his party and parliament, days after announcing his support for protesters fighting to bring changes to a new constitution.
The protesters, who belong to the Madhesi community, are angry about plans to divide the country into seven federal provinces under the charter adopted on Sunday.
Former Maoist rebel Bhattarai has consistently attacked lawmakers -- including members of his own party -- for not taking minorities` concerns into account while drafting the constitution, Nepal`s first to be drawn up by elected representatives.
"Effective from today`s date I have resigned from all obligations, responsibilities at all levels as well as general membership of the UCPN Maoists," Bhattarai told a press conference, referring to the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), in which he had been a senior leader.
"There is no option of returning to a house you have left, an old house, a damaged house," Bhattarai said, announcing his resignation from Nepal`s national parliament as well.
"I will now do what I can as a citizen of this country... as long as I am alive I will work for the country and the people," he said.
The new charter is the final stage in a peace process that began when Maoist rebels laid down arms in 2006 after a decade-long insurgency, winning parliamentary elections two years later and abolishing the monarchy.
But the constitution`s adoption has been marred by weeks of violent protests in Nepal`s southern plains, home to half of the country`s population.
More than 40 people have died in weeks of clashes between police and protesters from the Madhesi and Tharu communities, ethnic minorities who say the new internal borders leave them under-represented in the national parliament.
"With the constitution already in dispute, Bhattarai`s resignation will... naturally encourage the protesters," said Lok Raj Baral, executive chairman of the Nepal Centre for Contemporary Studies.
On Friday demonstrators in Birgunj town, 90 kilometres (55 miles) south of Kathmandu, blocked a major trading checkpoint for oil and food imports into the Himalayan nation.Bhattarai, 61, served as prime minister from August 2011 to March 2013 and played a key role in bringing the Maoists into the political mainstream.
His decision to push for an alliance with parliamentary parties paved the way for the rebels` victory in elections in 2008.
But the party suffered a huge defeat in national polls five years later, with core supporters accusing them of betraying their revolutionary ideals.
"Bhattarai has been talking for some time about the need for a new political force to address the country`s needs... if a leader of his stature quits the Maoists it will obviously have an impact on the party`s popularity," Baral told AFP.
Bhattarai told reporters he had no plans to join another party.
"I am now an independent and free citizen... I have not thought about what I will do next and have kept my mind open," he said.
The blocking of the Birgunj imports hub has sparked fears of a fuel shortage, leading to long lines at gas stations in Kathmandu while the movement of cargo through other border checkpoints has also declined.
The recent violence has also sparked concern in India, which has traditionally exerted significant political influence in Nepal.
Work on the new constitution began in 2008 after the Maoists won parliamentary elections and abolished the monarchy. But power-sharing squabbles between parties stymied progress on the draft.
Lawmakers finally reached agreement in June this year, spurred by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake two months earlier that killed nearly 8,900 people and destroyed more than half a million homes.