Rebel police clashed with pro-government supporters Monday outside Bolivia's presidential palace in the capital La Paz on the sixth day of a mutiny demanding better pay.
About 1.000 police officers and 500 protesters threw punches and sticks on the Plaza de Armas, though no injuries were immediately reported. Police officers, clad in civilian clothes fired tear gas to disband their attackers.
After several minutes, the pro-government supporters retreated from the square. They represented social movements and trade unions allied with President Evo Morales, who has accused the right wing opposition of plotting a coup.
Late afternoon an estimated a thousand police had surrounded the square outside the presidential palace. It was unclear whether Morales was in the government palace, which was closed and under guard by a military unit not involved in the protests.
Since Thursday, Bolivian low-ranking police have rioted to demand a pay increase. Authorities accuse them of stockpiling weapons and pressuring other units to turn over their arms in an attempt to overthrow the populist t government, charges the protestors deny. But the mutiny has since spread across the country.
Refusing to budge from their demand for a minimum pay hike to 2.000 Pesos (287 dollars), from the current average of 195 dollars a month, police in La Paz disregarded union leaders for caving in to the government by signing a deal setting a smaller increase.
Police in cities like Santa Cruz, Potosi, Cochabamba and Beni have also rejected the deal, which would have seen pay packages boosted by 220 Bolivianos (32 dollars) a month, Catholic radio Fides reported.
The protester's demands also include full pay upon retirement, a police ombudsman and the overturning of a law that bans them from publicly expressing their opinions.
On Sunday, Morales alleged that those on strike, in partnership with the opposition, had plans to kill Interior Minister Carlos Romero and attack the military with Molotov cocktails.
National police chief Colonel Victor Maldonado, whom protesters are calling on to resign has ordered all officers to take up their regular duties in accordance with the deal.
The mutiny began Thursday when protesters took over the headquarters of the country's riot police and eight other police stations. It then spread to more than two dozen police stations and command centres across the country.
The Army has been sent out to the streets to help with some minimum patrolling but President Morales pledged troops would not be ordered to raid police stations and arrest mutineers. Memories of a repeat of a police protest back in 2003 are still very much fresh. At the time the strike was quashed with the military causing dozens of deaths.