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Anti-India Protests Erupt In Nepal As Fuel Rationing Bites

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Protesters marched in Nepal’s capital on Monday, carrying an effigy of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, accusing their giant neighbor of imposing an economic blockade and meddling in internal politics over the adoption of a new constitution.

Tension between the South Asian nations has spiked since Nepal adopted the charter last week. It has upset southern minority groups, who fear being marginalized in a new federal structure it lays out, dividing their homelands.

More than 40 people have been killed in protests in the landlocked Himalayan republic since August. Indian oil trucks stopped crossing into Nepal because of protests in the south, prompting authorities to try to limit use of cars and save fuel.

Marchers in Monday’s protest in central Kathmandu carried an effigy of Modi and shouted, “Down with Indian expansionism! Down with Modi!” before police scattered them and confiscated the effigy.

“We are asking India, ‘Please, please open up the border and stop interfering in Nepal’s internal issues,'” said nursing student Amrita Baral, who was among 130 protesters in a second march headed for the Indian embassy in Kathmandu.

A representative of India’s ministry of external affairs declined to comment on the new protests.

Nepal’s largest trading partner, India strongly denies a trade blockade, saying its trucks are unable to enter Nepal because protesters block the roads.

Nepal has asked China to hasten the re-opening of two border crossings, a foreign ministry spokeswoman said.

The crossings have been closed since two earthquakes struck this spring, killing nearly 9,000 people, leaving Nepal almost totally dependent on India for overland supplies.

India has been critical of Kathmandu for rushing through the constitution, despite opposition from minorities living close to the Indian border.

Nepal started rationing fuel for vehicles on Sunday, said Nepal Oil Corp spokesman Deepak Baral, after trade ground to a halt at crossing points on the India-Nepal border.

Hundreds of trucks carrying food and fuel lined up on the Indian side, while opposition protesters on the Nepal side sat on the road to block their path.

Nepali officials blame their southern neighbor for an unofficial blockade, but in a statement last week, India blamed the disruption on activity in Nepal.

Kathmandu residents said there was no food or fuel crisis yet, but signs of a shortage were building.

In one neighborhood, dozens of taxis queued up outside a petrol station rumored to be scheduled for a fuel delivery.

“Apparently the tanker will arrive at 2 p.m.,” said Deepak Kshetry, a driver waiting since Sunday. “But let’s see.”