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Bomb blasts mar Nepal as election day approaches

BOMB BLASTS MAR NEPAL AS ELECTION DAY APPROACHES

A former minister, who has been fielded by an opposition party as an MP candidate, narrowly escaped death on Tuesday when a roadside bomb exploded as he was travelling to an election rally in eastern Nepal.

The explosion was the latest in a series of attacks by an anti-election group, which has raised fears of violence in the troubled country's general elections.

An unidentified group hurled a crude explosive device at the vehicle carrying Sher Dhan Rai, a candidate of the Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) party in Bhojpur district.

Almost simultaneously in the neighboring district of Sakhuwasabha, a group of UML candidates came under another bomb attack.

Nepal is holding general elections in two phases this year, which will cap the peace process which is over a decade long, and is expected to result in political stability.

The first round of voting is scheduled for Nov. 26, when voters of 32 districts in Himalayan and Middle Hills regions will go to polls.

A vast majority of over 3 million voters are expected to vote in the first phase of the polls.

The second phase will take place on Dec. 7 in capital Kathmandu and southern plains.

Voters will elect lawmakers for the central parliament as well as well as for seven provincial assemblies across the country.

Helicopters and mules have been used to transport ballot papers to some remote Himalayan regions, but the biggest challenge for the Election Commission is to ensure security before and during the polls, according to analysts.

Nawaraj Dhakal, a spokesman of the Election Commission, told Anadolu Agency that election officers were expected to reach the polling centers by Nov. 24.

"We are working to ensure that logistics are in place. We have also coordinated with security agencies to ensure safety before and during the polls," he said.

When asked about the pre-elections violence, he said the Home Ministry had instructed its security forces to follow the security plan.

"The safety of candidates, voters and election officers are most important. The Election Commission is aware of recent incidents, but our security agencies are working hard to prevent security lapses," he said.

No one has claimed responsibility for Tuesday's attacks, but police have launched a crackdown against a Maoist splinter group which has vowed to disrupt polls.

Over the weekend, the anti-election group also attacked two Maoist leaders --Janardan Sharma and Barshaman Pun-- who are contesting elections in the Maoist stronghold of Rolpa and Rukum districts in the country's mid-west.

Communist Party of Nepal, led by Netra Bikram Chand, who broke away from the main Maoist party in 2013, is suspected of being behind the attacks.

Late Monday, police in the tourist town of Pokhara arrested 12 members of the group, accusing them of disrupting the election campaigns.

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