KATHMANDU - Nepal stood on the brink of fresh political turmoil on Sunday as wrangling over the young Himalayan republic's first federal constitution ground towards a midnight deadline.
A new constitution is widely seen as crucial to helping end the instability that has plagued Nepal since the end of a Maoist-led civil war in 2006 and subsequent overthrow of the monarchy, but it has been thwarted by demands for the country to be divided into states along ethnic lines.
The debate has sparked violent protests in recent weeks and ethnic groups have staged demonstrations near the parliament building where a Constituent Assembly of politicians has until midnight to end its haggling and agree on the new charter.
If it misses the deadline set by the Supreme Court, the assembly - which doubles as a parliament - will be dissolved, creating a power vacuum and risking further unrest in a poverty-stricken nation dependent on aid and tourism.
"The demands for ethnic autonomy have become so strong that if they are not addressed they could lay the seeds for further conflict as happened in Sri Lanka and Aceh," said Kunda Dixit, editor of the Nepali Times weekly.