KATHMANDU: A 48-hour strike brought much of Nepal to a standstill on Friday, two weeks ahead of a deadline for the country to complete its first peace-time constitution.
Protest groups have been making various claims for their rights ahead of a May 27 deadline for parliament to complete its new constitution following the end of a bloody 10-year Maoist insurgency in 2006.
Friday marked the second day of action by the Joint Struggle Committee for National Integrity and Ethnic Harmony, an umbrella grouping of various castes who say proposals to form new federal states along ethnic lines will be divisive.
Police said they had detained 50 people in the impoverished Himalayan nation's capital, Kathmandu, where shops were forced to close and drivers warned to stay off the roads.
"A taxi was set on fire and another seven more people have been arrested so far today for throwing stones at police and forcing shops to shut," said Dhiraj Pratap Singh, a Kathmandu police spokesman.
"We deployed 3,400 police on the streets after we received information that the protests might be violent.
"At almost every junction there were protesters gathering -- in some places up to 1,000 -- and they were singing patriotic songs and hymns and brandishing the national flag."
Thousands of college students were forced to walk for hours to take public exams in the capital while local media reported that 150 foreign holidaymakers were stranded en route to the central tourist hub of Pokhara.
Residents of the country's remote far west have endured two weeks of shutdowns by demonstrators demanding their region is not split up, while indigenous Tharus from the southern plains have also staged strikes.
Nepal's parliament was elected in 2008 with a mandate to write a new constitution but lawmakers have missed several deadlines to agree a federal structure and decide which system of governance the country should adopt.
The Supreme Court has ruled that no more extensions will be allowed if the assembly again fails to draft the constitution by May 27. AGENCIES