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 today 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.