Nepal votes in final round of historic polls

A Nepali voter casts her ballot at a polling station during the final round of parliamentary elections in Kathmandu on Thursday. (AFP)
Updated 07 December 2017
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Nepal votes in final round of historic polls

KATMANDU: Nepal votes Thursday in the final round of historic parliamentary elections aimed at drawing a line under years of conflict and political turmoil in the Himalayan country.
Thousands of police and soldiers have been deployed in the capital Katmandu and the volatile southern lowlands for the vote after pre-election violence that has left one dead and dozens injured.
It is the second phase of a watershed election for national and provincial parliaments under a new constitution that represents the culmination of the transition from feudal monarchy to federal democracy following a brutal civil war that ended 11 years ago.
“I’m feeling very happy to cast a vote because it can change the future of our country, which we are expecting,” said Katmandu voter Samita Joshi.
“As a young person I think that it will bring hope and opportunities.”
More than 12.2 million people are eligible to vote in the elections, the first phase of which passed off peacefully last month.
But the south is home to a mosaic of ethnic minorities who say the constitution leaves them politically marginalized, a cause that has sparked bloody protests in recent years.
Political analyst Chandra Kishor Jha said violence could return if the promises of a fairer distribution of power were not met under the new federal system.
“If they cannot fulfil their promises then the groups that have been part of the struggle will not stay quiet. There is possibility of conflict again,” he told AFP.
The vote will establish the country’s first provincial assemblies, devolving power away from a top-heavy central government that has cycled through 10 leaders in the last 11 years.
The newly-elected assemblies will be tasked with naming their provinces, which are currently referred to by number, as well as choosing capitals and negotiating budgets with Katmandu — all sensitive considerations that could rekindle tensions in the ethnically-diverse south.
Years of political turbulence have hampered development in the impoverished Himalayan nation, which is still recovering from a powerful earthquake that hit more than two years ago, killing 9,000 people and destroying over half a million homes.
It took nine years after the end of a decade-long civil war to agree to a new constitution. The charter adopted in 2015 mandated a sweeping overhaul of Nepal’s political system to give greater autonomy to the provinces.
But it also sparked deadly protests in the south by ethnic minority groups who say it leaves them politically marginalized, and have demanded it be changed.
The communist CPN-UML party is expected to sweep the polls, buoyed by its alliance with the main Maoist party comprised of former rebels who fought government forces for a decade.
But the nationalist CPN-UML has strongly opposed amending the constitution to address the demands of ethnic minorities that it views as being more closely aligned with India.
Many in the southern lowlands share close linguistic and cultural ties with Indians across the border.
Nepal’s powerful neighbor to the south has long played the role of big brother in the landlocked country.
But in recent years Katmandu has played diplomatic ping-pong with its two large neighbors, India and China, who use big-ticket infrastructure projects to vie for influence.
Counting of ballot papers from both phases of the elections will begin once polling stations close at 5:00 p.m. (1115 GMT). Results are expected in the next few days.


Philippine villages at risk of landslides forcibly evacuated

Updated 21 September 2018
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Philippine villages at risk of landslides forcibly evacuated

  • Authorities have limited the number of rescuers and other people inside the stricken villages
  • About 270 government troops and policemen were deployed to prevent residents from returning to high-risk villages

NAGA, Philippines: Philippine troops and police forcibly evacuated residents of five villages vulnerable to landslides after the collapse of a mountainside buried dozens of homes and killed at least 22 people in a central region.
Some residents left on their own, but the bulk of more than 1,200 people in villages adjacent or near the landslide-hit area were forcibly moved by authorities Thursday night, police Chief Superintendent Debold Sinas said Friday.
Survivors heard a thunderous roar, crashing and banging when the mountainside fell onto rural houses and shanties in two villages in Naga city on Thursday morning. Some trapped in the sludge managing to send text messages pleading for help but the messages stopped within a few hours.
Distraught relatives begged for more backhoes to be brought to the mound of earth and debris, where they hoped loved ones could be pulled out alive, but there were far too few machines to dig for the dozens of people missing.
Resident Nimrod Parba said one of his trapped relatives called for help about three hours after the landslide hit, entombing 13 of his kin. “They are still under the rubble, they are still there. They are covered in shallow earth, we need a backhoe,” Parba said.
A man embracing a child in a house was dug out by rescuers using a backhoe Thursday night in a poignant scene witnessed by journalists.
Authorities have limited the number of rescuers and other people inside the stricken villages, fearing heavy rains on the loose and soaked ground could cause new slides. Thursday’s landslide also covered part of a river, prompting officials to order a temporary canal to be dug.
About 270 government troops and policemen were deployed to prevent residents from returning to high-risk villages, Sinas said.
President Rodrigo Duterte is to visit Naga city in Cebu province later Friday as he faces his latest crisis.
The landslide in the central region occurred as parts of the far northern Philippine deal with damage from a typhoon that hit last weekend. At least 95 people were killed and more than 50 are missing, many in the gold-mining town of Itogon in the north where landslides hit houses and a chapel where people had gathered in the storm.
Cebu province was not directly hit by Typhoon Mangkhut but the storm intensified the seasonal monsoon rains that normally fall in tropical Asia.
It’s not clear what set off the landslide, but some residents blamed limestone quarries, which they suspect may have caused cracks in the mountainside facing their villages.
The Philippines is one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries. It is lashed by about 20 tropical storms each year and has active seismic faults where earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur. Poverty forces many people to live in those vulnerable areas, making natural disasters more deadly.