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Nepal extends parliament term to develop new constitution

The Nepalese government on Friday extended the term of parliament by one year in order to develop a new democratic constitution. The agreement between Nepal's main political parties occurred just after midnight, when the Constituent Assembly [official website, in Nepalese] was due to dissolve along with nation's Interim Constitution [text, PDF]. Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal [official website] also agreed to resign [AP report] in order to gain support of the rebel Maoist party [party website] in extending the parliamentary term and to leave the nation with a power-sharing government. The Maoists won election in 2008 to form the first secular government in Nepal but lost power nine months later in an effort to integrate rebel fighters into the national army. The Maoist party will now have significant control in the development of the new constitution, as it is the largest party in the new power-sharing government. Formal talks between party leaders will begin Sunday.

The peace process in Nepal has been hampered by human rights abuses, but several strides have been taken since the secular government inception in 2008. In March, Nepalese rights groups praised two recent judgments [JURIST report] by the District Court in Baitadi against caste-based discrimination. The court sentenced a man accused of assaulting the father of the groom during a July 2009 wedding for practicing "rituals reserved for high-caste communities" to one year in prison and a fine of 5,000 rupees. In a similar decision upheld by the Kanchanpur Appellate Court last August, the Baitadi District Court sentenced the main defendant accused of physically assaulting 12 Dalits during a festival to two years imprisonment and a fine of 25,000 rupees. In 2008, the Supreme Court of Nepal directed the country's government to end sexual orientation-based discrimination [JURIST report] and to extend equal rights to gender minorities, including same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive]. The order came in a lawsuit brought by several gay rights groups and follows a December 2007 ruling [BBC report] recognizing homosexuals as citizens under the classification "third sex." Nepal also has a history of human rights abuses stemming from the country's internal conflict. The decade-long Maoist guerrilla insurgency that left more than 13,000 people dead ended [JURIST report] in late 2006 when the Nepalese government signed a peace agreement that established the Constituent Assembly. The assembly was elected in April 2008 and voted to abolish the monarchy [JURIST reports].

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