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Last Updated: Monday, 29 January 2007, 14:05 GMT
Nepal leaders accused over unrest
Protesters demonstrate in south Nepal
Demonstrators in the south are demanding greater autonomy
A cabinet minister has resigned in Nepal over continuing violence in the south of the country.

Commerce Minister Hridayesh Tripathi accused the coalition government of complacency in the face of the unrest.

At least seven people have died in recent clashes in the south, the latest two shot by police over the weekend.

Mr Tripathi is a member of the Madheshi community, many of whom have been demonstrating complaining they are discriminated against.

His announcement that he was resigning came as top leaders met in Kathmandu to discuss possible solutions to the unrest in the south.

'Ghost town'

Mr Tripathi said there was no point in staying in a government which had "failed to show any serious concern" about the violence in the south - an area he said was "burning at a dangerous speed".

A vast stretch of Nepal's southern highway, its transport backbone, is at a standstill
BBC correspondent Charles Haviland

The BBC's Charles Haviland who has just been to the area says Lahan, where five protesters were shot dead earlier this month, feels like a ghost town.

Charred hulks of buses set ablaze by protesters line the central street.

The town has been under curfew for many days and armed police are out in force. Even outside curfew hours Lahan is completely dead, our correspondent says, as the Madheshi People's Rights Forum has declared a general strike.

A vast stretch of Nepal's southern highway, its transport backbone, is at a standstill because protesters have imposed a blockade, felling trees across the road at regular intervals.

Police have evacuated a few stranded bus passengers by helicopter, but others have been stuck in Lahan for nearly two weeks.

Map of Nepal

Some formerly violent spots are now calmer, our correspondent says, but more clashes are breaking out further west and at least four towns were under curfew on Monday.

There have been many accounts of protesters vandalising the offices of newspapers and radio stations whose reports they disagree with.

The Madheshi demonstrators say proportional representation must be used in forthcoming elections to ensure their voice is heard.

They also want devolved government in the south, better representation in parliament and the removal of hill dwellers from important local jobs.

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