Twenty killed in Bolivia protests

About 20 Bolivian protesters have been reported killed after thousands of troops were sent to quell increasingly violent protests against the president.

    Bolivian troops were said to have fired at protesters

    The protesters died during pitched battles on Sunday with

    troops clearing roadblocks

    in the poor industrial suburb of El

    Alto, outside La Paz, human rights officials said.

    The government, which has understated tolls in recent

    protests, said four civilians and one soldier were killed and

    about 30 others were injured.

    Sunday's clashes raise the bodycount to around 30 dead with dozens injured during month-long protests against Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada's free market policies and failure to tackle crushing poverty.

    Death toll

    "It is difficult to come up with an exact toll, but

    according to the reports we have studied, there are 20 dead and

    91 injured in or near El Alto," said Waldo Albarracin,

    president of Bolivia's Permanent Human Rights Assembly.

    Fuel and basic foods were running short in the capital as

    thousands of poor Bolivian farmers and workers, calling for

    Sanchez de Lozada to quit stopped convoys of trucks entering

    the Andean city with roadblocks.

    Presidential spokesman Mauricio Antezana said the

    government could order a curfew in El Alto at any time to stop

    what it perceived as a coup attempt by its opponents

    .

    Witnesses said troops stood guard on the main road in El

    Alto, the centre of recent protests against the government.

    Pitched battles

    Sanchez de Lozada has failed to
    alleviate poverty in Bolivia 

    Sunday's violence is the worst since February, when a

    government austerity drive, backed by the International Monetary

    Fund, sparked massive riots in which 32 people died.

    Two people were killed on Saturday and dozens more were

    injured as protesters fought pitched battles with police and

    security forces outside the capital, media reported.

    Protests by the country's poor Indian majority against

    Sanchez de Lozada have spiralled in the last month amid an

    economic downturn in one of

    the poorest nations in the western hemisphere.

    Indian leader and lawmaker Evo Morales, who nearly won the

    presidency in 2002, rejected the government's claims of a coup attempt

    .

    Unpopular president

    "They (the government) are the subversive ones who are trying to act like

    coup leaders," he said.

    Sanchez de Lozada, a US ally in the anti-drug war who is

    widely unpopular for failing to alleviate poverty, has played

    down the protests and defied calls to step down.

    Next week, transport workers and coca farmers are expected to join the

    protests.

    They are angry at a

    US-backed drive to eradicate illegal crops of coca, the raw

    material used to make cocaine.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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