archivos de los protestos globales
archives of global protests

Bolivia gas protesters cut capital's airport road, clash with police
Fri May 27, 5:25 PM ET

LA PAZ (AFP) - Demonstrators clashed with police again in La Paz and blocked the main road to the capital's airport in a new day of protests to demand the nationalization of the country's natural gas industry.


Riot police drove back protesters seeking to get into the Plaza Murillo in La Paz, where there is the presidential palace and Congress. The protesters smashed windows on department stores.

Fighting also erupted on the main road to the main international airport at El Alto, in the suburbs. Hundreds of demonstrators blocked the highway with burning tires, stoned minibuses and occupied toll booths before police dispersed them with tear gas, said Colonel Hernan Jaimes of the police.

The violence ended a brief lull for a religious holiday Thursday. There have been mounting protests against the government of President Carlos Mesa and the handling of the country's gas reserves. At least six people were injured in other protests this week.

The protesters want greater state control of the gas supplies, second only to Venezuela's in South America. They say a law which ordered oil companies to pay higher royalties and taxes was not strong enough.

Mesa's government has in turn called for talks. "We have begun talks with different sectors and we are meeting with leaders in El Alto and others," cabinet chief Jose Galindo said.

"We hope that in coming days we can reach a consensus in the country and carry out a common agenda."

He added that some demands, notably for the resignation of the president the calling of a constitutional convention, would have to be modified.

Mesa took over as president after Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada was forced out of office in October 2003 by similar protests.

Mesa tendered his resignation to Congress in March in exasperation at social conflicts that he said then were "strangling" the South American nation. Lawmakers turned down the move.

But in recent weeks his public approval has dropped from 60 percent to 44 percent.

The chamber of commerce of the Santa Cruz region, Bolivia's economic engine, on Friday called for Mesa, whose mandate ends in August 2007, to "step aside" and hold general elections.

"If this is a case where he cannot or does not want to govern, we ask President Mesa to step aside," said chamber president Gabriel Dabdoub, whose group has asked for greater political and economic autonomy for the eastern region.

A top military commander said that two colonels who had called Wednesday for Mesa to quit had been relieved of their duties.

Adding to Mesa's political woes, Education Minister Maria Soledad Quiroga resigned over differences that she said made her presence in the cabinet "untenable."

Disturbances in Bolivia prompted UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to urge "all Bolivians to peacefully and democratically resolve their differences over major issues of national interest, the use of natural resources, questions of regional autonomy and proposals for a constituent assembly," his spokesman said in a statement.

"The secretary general calls on all citizens to engage in a constructive dialogue to allow for the democratic and non-violent resolution of their differences. He reaffirms the need to abide by constitutional principles and to fully respect human rights.

"The United Nations is ready to assist all Bolivians in finding solutions to the challenges they are facing."

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