Two protesters were killed in Nepal only hours before protests over a new constitution entered their 100th day on Sunday.
On Saturday night, according to Nepalese police spokesperson Kamal Singh Bam, protesters attacked police -- whom, he said, had been escorting vehicles in the country’s southeast -- with petrol bombs and stones.
"At around 9pm, protesters blocking the highway hurled petrol bombs and stones at our security forces," Bam told Anadolu Agency.
"Police first fired tear gas shells and tried to control the crowd," he added. "But they had to open fire because protesters turned violent."
The two slain men, aged 22 and 18, were reportedly killed in separate incidents that occurred in southeastern Nepal’s Saptari district.
The local authorities, meanwhile, have imposed a curfew in the villages of Bhardah and Rapani and in Rajbiraj, Saptari’s regional capital.
Nepal’s Federal Socialist Forum, however, which supports the protests, challenged the police account of the violence, saying the two protesters had been killed when Nepalese security forces opened fire on a peaceful demonstration.
"We condemn the government’s actions in which it fired indiscriminately on demonstrators, killing two of them," forum president Upendra Yadav said in a Sunday statement.
"Instead of finding a way out through talks, the government -- by cracking down on demonstrators -- has proved that it’s working to disrupt dialogue and push the country towards crisis," Yadav said.
In any case, the latest deaths are likely to dampen ongoing dialogue efforts between the government and the leaders of Madhesi Morcha, an alliance of four regional parties that demand changes to the new constitution.
For more than three months, the Madhesi people -- lowlanders with close ties to their kinfolk in India -- and the Tharus -- indigenous to Nepal’s southern plains -- have been protesting against a seven-state federal model laid out in the new charter, which they say is discriminatory.
Protesters demand proportional representation for their people in all Nepalese state institutions, along with constitutional amendments giving protesting groups two federal states in the southern plains.
Meanwhile, local medical professionals report that hospitals across the country have run out of life-saving medicine due to an ongoing blockade by India, which supports the protesters’ demands.
On Friday, the Madhesi Morcha said it would allow trucks carrying medicine into Nepal via a border crossing in the country’s east. Hours later, however, its cadres set a medicine-laden truck ablaze in Birgunj.
India has supported the protests by imposing an informal blockade on Nepal, which has severely impacted the flow of goods into its landlocked northern neighbor.
The situation has led to countrywide shortages of several essential commodities, including oil, cooking gas and medicine.
New Delhi, for its part, officially denies any involvement in the blockade, saying it is Nepal's unstable security situation that is impeding cross-border traffic.