LATIN AMERICA

Masked men firebomb Bolivian radio station leaving owner in critical state

Seventy-eight-year-old owner left in critical condition Morales asks Sean Penn to persuade Washington to extradite ex-president

Cochabamba / Madrid -
Fernando Vidal talks to reporters after he suffered burns when his radio station was attacked.
Fernando Vidal talks to reporters after he suffered burns when his radio station was attacked.ESTEBAN FARFAN (AFP)

Five masked men firebombed a Bolivian radio station on Monday during a newscast in which two women were being interviewed concerning corruption allegations in the local customs office. The journalist, who is the owner of the station, and a sound engineer were severely burned in the attack.

According to the La Paz daily La Razón, 78-year-old Fernando Vidal, owner of Radio Popular, in Yacuiba, began screaming and pleading for water while he was broadcasting live. The two women who were being interviewed managed to escape through a window but Karen Anze, the engineer, was also caught in the attack.

Police have arrested three suspects, who were identified by Vidal and Anze as being among the perpetrators. Vidal has 40-percent burns while Anze sustained damage to her arms.

In a statement, the Morales government condemned the attack and ordered "a rigorous" investigation.

In another media-related issue, the editors of the La Paz daily Página Siete and the Catholic-run Fides News Agency (ANF) were called before prosecutors on Monday to give statements concerning a story in which the government has accused them of inciting racism by allegedly "twisting" Morales' words to present the president's opinion as being that some opposition candidates in the eastern part of the country were "lazy." Página Siete editor Raúl Peñaranda refused to give a statement to prosecutors, saying that there "was no crime or error" committed in the reporting of the story. Spanish-Bolivian priest José Gramunt de Moragas, director of the ANF, also denied any wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, Morales on Tuesday met with US actor Sean Penn in La Paz and asked him to be Bolivia's "humanitarian ambassador" to help press Washington for the extradition of former President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. The ex-president, who served from 1993-97 and from 2002-2003, is facing criminal charges stemming from the deaths of 67 people during a 2003 anti-government protest.

Washington's refusal

In 2008, the US government refused to hand over Sánchez de Lozada and his respective defense and energy ministers, Carlos Sánchez Berzaín and Jorge Berindoague, who have sought political asylum in the United States. State Department officials have told Morales that it was a matter for the US courts to decide.

The Morales government has charged Sánchez de Lozada and his former ministers with genocide in connection with the deaths of the protesters who were carrying out a demonstration over his administration's energy policies. More than 400 people were injured in the confrontation between the Indigenous communities and troops were sent in to quell the demonstration.

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