Protests flare up across Bolivia

Long march begins to demonstrate against Morales' renewed highway plans

Police fire a water cannon at medical students Tuesday in La Paz.
Police fire a water cannon at medical students Tuesday in La Paz.JUAN KARITA (AP)

Police battled striking public health workers in the streets of La Paz late Tuesday while miners demanding pay hikes exploded small dynamite charges as they tried to break through a law-enforcement barrier.

Meanwhile, in another part of Bolivia, dozens of indigenous groups began preparing for a long march Wednesday to protest the government's renewed plans to construct a road through a pristine Amazon forest. Violence was reported this past weekend in Beni province between indigenous movements and social organizations who want the road built.

In the capital, other sectors have begun to show solidarity with the two-day strike organized by the Bolivian Workers Central (COB) as President Evo Morales' government grapples with an explosive social situation.

Bolivia's largest transportation union also agreed to go on strike next week to protest a traffic restructuring plan in La Paz. But it was Tuesday's confrontation between police and public health workers, who are protesting the government's plans to increase their working week, which saw the most violence.

Police fired tear gas and water cannons while miners who joined the protests detonated small amounts of dynamite, even blowing up an effigy of Morales.

The 52-year-old leftist president hasn't been able to make any public appearances because he has been recovering from an infection over the last two days, said Vice President Álvaro García Linera, who didn't give any further details of the illness.

Deputy Interior Minister Jorge Pérez said the miners' blasts wounded four police officers and damaged windows in the center of the city. Police tried to keep the marchers away from Plaza Murillo, the site where the presidential office, the Legislative Assembly and Foreign Ministry are located.

"This protest is being held because we don't have a government response to our demands, and we will stay in the streets," said COB leader Juan Carlos Trujillo.

Different communities were planning to march from Chaparina, in Beni, to La Paz to demand that the government cancel a referendum to determine whether to build a highway connecting Villa Tunari and San Ignacio De Moxos, which will cut through an area of the Isiboro Sécure National Park, considered a sacred preserve by the indigenous communities.

Last year, President Morales canceled previous plans to build a road that would have connected Bolivia with Brazil through the park after several protestors were killed in a skirmish with police. But earlier this year, Morales introduced a new law that calls for a referendum on the highway plan. This will be the ninth march organized to protest the project. Lawmaker Pedro Nuni condemned government plans to block the protestors from entering La Paz.

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