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Nepal begins reconstruction of earthquake-damaged heritage sites

Key heritage sites in and around Kathmandu that were damaged by a devastating earthquake one year ago are finally set to be reconstructed, Nepal's prime minister has said.

Khadga Prasad Oli made the announcement as he offered prayers at the 17th century white-walled Anantapur temple, which was damaged in the magnitude 7.8 quake on April 25 2015 along with more than 600 other historic structures.

More than half a million homes were also destroyed, but hardly any have been rebuilt.

Nepal has been criticised for delays in reconstruction - largely due to bureaucratic bungling - of its historic structures and residents' homes despite foreign donors pledging 4.1 billion US dollars (£2.8 billion) towards that end.

Aid groups have demanded that authorities speed up the process and change some of the laws that have become obstacles.

Mr Oli said on Monday that work would begin on rebuilding the temple and three other heritage sites in Kathmandu, including the old palaces and temples at Kathmandu's Durbar Square and key sites in the nearby cities of Patan and Bhaktapur.

Anantapur is one of the small Buddhist temples, stupas and monasteries surrounding the fifth-century hilltop shrine of Swayambhunath that lies in ruins.

The site is also called the "monkey shrine" for the thousands of monkeys that congregate on the spot at the north-west edge of Kathmandu. It is listed among the Unesco heritage sites.

The prime minister said the work would progress swiftly, adding it was a huge task that would require time.

He also said the construction of private houses has been initiated in 10 districts to mark the anniversary.

According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, an estimated four million people are still living in sub-standard temporary shelters in conditions that pose a threat to their health and well-being.

Only 661 families have received the first instalment of a 200,000-rupee (£1,300) government grant, getting 50,000 rupees (£325) so far.

Out of the 4.1 billion dollars pledged, Nepal has so far received just 1.28 billion dollars (£890 million).

The delay in getting the money has been blamed on the government taking months to set up the National Reconstruction Authority, which was done only in December.