PM urges free vote as Nepal records first death in anti-poll attack

Nepal's premier Khilraj Regmi urged the country Sunday to vote without fear in crucial upcoming elections, as ongoing violence by anti-poll protestors claimed its first fatality.

Nepalese police stand guard in front of the Nepal Election Commision office in Kathmandu on November 17, 2013

"We would like to request all the voters to participate in the maximum numbers," Regmi said in a televised address to the nation Sunday evening.

"The government is committed to provide security to all the people," he said ahead of Tuesday's vote, only the second such polls since a 10-year civil war launched by Maoist rebels ended in 2006 and the former guerrillas entered politics.

Since then, political infighting has confounded efforts to draft a constitution and conclude the peace process, leading to the collapse of Nepal's first constituent assembly in May 2012.

Meanwhile, anti-poll demonstrators have stepped up efforts to disrupt the November 19 vote in recent days, torching vehicles and hurling explosives at traffic while police have arrested more than 270 people.

"The acts of violence, the arson and bombings are condemnable and can never be excused," Regmi said, urging the protestors to stop their campaign.

Ram Kumar Deuja, a truck driver's assistant injured in an attack in southern Nepal last week became the first fatality of the protests Sunday, a police official in the capital said.

"Deuja was injured on Thursday when demonstrators threw a petrol bomb at his truck. He died this morning, he was the first casualty since the anti-poll protests began," police official Kalika Lamichhane told AFP.

The attacks by demonstrators belonging to a hardline faction of the Maoist party have raised security fears, with many wondering if voters will brave the threat to cast their ballot.

Authorities have deployed 50,000 soldiers and 140,000 police personnel to guard polling stations.

Former US president Jimmy Carter, who is in Kathmandu to lead a 50-member team of election observers told AFP he was confident the polls would proceed smoothly.

"The people of Nepal are ready to cast their vote overwhelmingly. Secondly, the poll preparations this time...the security is better than I have ever seen," he said after a meeting with election commission officials.

"All of this would guarantee that the disturbances would be minimal," he added.

Carter, whose NGO The Carter Center monitored Nepal's landmark 2008 constituent assembly polls, which ended royal rule, met with the hardliners last April and asked them to renounce violence in the run-up to the election.

The 33-party anti-poll alliance, headed by the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M), says elections cannot be carried out under the interim administration headed by Regmi, who is also the chief justice of the supreme court.

They want the vote to be postponed until a cross-party government is put in place.

More than 100 parties, including three major ones -- the Unified Marxist-Leninist, the Nepali Congress and the Maoists -- are fielding candidates for the 601-seat constituent assembly, which will also serve as a parliament.

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Writer: AFP
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