At least four people are dead since Saturday in southern Nepal after being shot by riot police, as protests continued against the country's new constitution. The dead were among those shot by police during clashes with demonstrators and several have been reportedly injured, in Saptari district, about 90 miles southeast of Kathmandu.

The protesters belong to the Madhesi community -- who claim the new constitution discriminates against them -- and have barricaded the border with India for two months, triggering a shortage of food and medicine in the Himalayan country, which imports much of its supplies from its southern neighbor. Nepal reportedly blames India for fomenting the protests by supporting the Madhesi, who have close ethnic ties to northern India.

“The actions of protesters were barbaric. We used force in retaliation,” Laxmi Dhakal, a government spokesman, said according to the Kathmandu Post, adding: “We cannot tolerate such heinous acts. Stringent measures will be taken to curb such actions in the coming days.” 

Dhakal also claimed, according to the Kathmandu Post, that the protesters were carrying spears and other domestic weapons. However, Laxman Lal Karna, a senior leader of the Sadbhavana Party that is organizing the protests, said Sunday, according to Reuters, that the protesters were shot while they were sitting peacefully to blockade a road.

While three people were shot during clashes with the police, the fourth person was shot during a confrontation in the town of Rajbiraj in Saptari district Sunday, BBC reported. A local hospital said all the victims died of gunshot wounds before they were brought to the hospital, the report added. The facility is also reportedly treating 10 critically injured protesters.

The clashes in Saptari come even as United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a peaceful resolution. However, several rounds of negotiations between the government and protest leaders have failed to resolve a conflict over the altering of local state borders as dictated by the new constitution, Reuters reported Sunday.