Ethnic Nepalese blamed as bombs shake Bhutan

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The Independent Online

A series of bomb blasts has shaken the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan just days after a date was set for elections that will end more than a century of absolute rule by its royal family.

The bombs wounded at least one person as they were detonated across the country on Sunday. Without providing evidence, officials blamed leftist ethnic Nepalese groups who in recent years have been forced from the country.

Kunzang Wangdi, the country's chief election officer, said police had identified three separate groups they believed were planning to disrupt the election for the lower house of parliament, set for 24 March. The first poll for the less powerful new upper house was held on 31 December.

Until the early 1960s, Bhutan was a barely developed country with no paved roads, electricity, telephones or organised medical services. Despite a move towards modernisation, televisions and the internet were only permitted in 1999. The country has been preparing for further transformation since the former monarch, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, decided to hand power to an elected government. The current king, 27-year-old Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck, is preparing to stand aside for rule by an elected government.

The authorities claim that ethnic Nepalese groups are seeking to interrupt the process. In the late 1990s more than 100,000 ethnic Nepalis – a Hindu minority in Bhutan – either fled or were forced to leave the country as authorities sought to impose Buddhist culture across the country.

Bhutan has refused to take the refugees back, saying that most of those who left did so voluntarily, which is strongly denied by the Nepalis. Three communist groups, disclosed by Mr Wangdi to the Associated Press, have become established in the refugee camps in eastern Nepal where most of the Bhutanese Nepalis now live.

Reports say that the only person wounded in the bombings was a woman who was hit by a splinterin the town of Gedu, in central Bhutan. A second bomb went off in Thimphu, shattering windows in a restaurant, while the two other blasts were in the south-western districts of Samtse and Dagana.

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