Kathmandu: Nepal`s parliament passed a new national constitution on Wednesday, weeks after political leaders reached a historic agreement to create a federal state following an earthquake that killed nearly 9,000 people.
A loud cheer went up in the House as Speaker Subash Nembang announced that the long-delayed bill had been passed, with 507 of the 598 lawmakers voting in favour.
The marathon vote, which began on Sunday and continued late into Wednesday night, follows violent protests that have killed more than 40 people and shut down large swathes of the south.
The new charter will replace an interim constitution in place since the end of a decade-long civil war that led to the abolition of the Hindu monarchy, and is due to come into force on Sunday evening.
It will divide the Himalayan nation of 28 million people into seven federal provinces, a move aimed at devolving power from the centre, but which critics say will not do enough to empower historically marginalised groups.
They include the Madhesi and Tharu ethnic minorities, who mainly inhabit the country`s southern plains and who claim that the new internal borders will leave them underrepresented.
Political leaders counter that no deal would have pleased everyone, and point to the urgency of ending the long stand-off over the constitution so that the country can start rebuilding.
Work on a new constitution began in 2008, two years after the end of a civil war between state forces and Maoist guerrillas seeking to depose an autocratic king and end high levels of social inequality.
For years the parties were unable to agree on the terms of the new charter, but Nepal`s three biggest political forces -- the Nepali Congress, UML and Maoist parties -- ended the deadlock in June after a 7.8-magnitude quake that killed nearly 8,900 people and destroyed around half a million homes.
They reached a deal on a new federal structure for the country, but were criticised for leaving the crucial issue of internal borders undecided.
Last month the parties decided to demarcate the provinces in the constitution after warnings that leaving the borders undefined would store up future problems.
But the move unleashed a wave of violence that has killed more than 40 people, among them two young children and a police officer lynched as he was driven to hospital in an ambulance.
On Tuesday -- as Nepal`s lawmakers voted through each of the constitution`s more than 300 clauses -- police fired into a crowd of demonstrators who had attacked police vehicles in the southern district of Rupandehi, killing four people.