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Protests spark clashes in Bolivia

Saturday, December 16th 2006 - 20:00 UTC
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At least 50 people were injured on Friday in a clash between supporters and opponents of Bolivian President Evo Morales' government, according local press reports.

The clash occurred in Guarayos, a village near the road linking the northern province of Beni and the eastern province Santa Cruz. Supporters of the ruling Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), who have blocked the road since Thursday night, clashed with people traveling on trucks and buses to the capital to participate in a council meeting. Police said only five of 20 buses got through and that there were 50 people injured by stones. The fighting, one of the most serious clashes during Morales administration, came after four wealthy provinces planned to hold large gatherings Friday to demand the Constituent Assembly give them greater autonomy. The autonomy movement has gained strength since Morales, the first indigenous leader of the majority Indian country, won the presidency and called a Constituent Assembly to rewrite the Constitution. Morales was inaugurated on Jan. 22 after receiving 54.8 percent of all votes. The four provinces -- Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tarija-- have claimed greater autonomy after Morales' moves to redistribute land holdings among poorer Bolivians, who include much of the country's indigenous population. Leaders of a fifth province, Cochabamba, said Thursday they were considering whether to join the autonomy movement. Meanwhile, troops braced for possible chaos on Friday in the four provinces. "We have asked the armed forces to be alert and vigilant," defense minister Walker San Miguel said in La Paz. Some people are worried the four provinces would eventually want to secede and thereby split the country.

Categories: Politics, Latin America.

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