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Bolivia deploys army amid police strike
New rounds of talks planned to end mutiny by policemen demanding better pay and resignation of police chief.
Last Modified: 24 Jun 2012 03:18
A crowd of some 300 striking policemen wearing masks vandalised the National Intelligence Directorate in La Paz [AFP]

Bolivian officials and police officers demanding better pay planned a new round of talks on Saturday after failing to reach agreement amid a nationwide mutiny.

Meetings led by Interior Minister Carlos Romero with the striking officers and their wives stalled early on Saturday, nearly seven hours after they began, with no agreement in sight.

"We have made every effort we can as a government with realistic proposals," Romero said.

Meanwhile, the defence ministry announced that more troops were being sent into the streets to protect private property and ensure public order.

"The military police will redouble their personnel in the main cities of the country, with patrols and guards in the streets, to avoid excesses against private property," Ruben Saavedra, the defence minister, said.

Salary demands

The junior officers, who have taken over more than two dozen police stations and command centres throughout the country, want their lowest pay raised to 2,000 bolivianos ($287) from a current average of $195 a month.

Demands also include full pay upon retirement, a police ombudsman and the overturning of a law that bans them from publicly expressing their opinions.

In addition, demonstrators are calling for the resignation of the national police chief, Colonel Victor Maldonado.

"We are not demanding crumbs, we are demanding solutions, comprehensive solutions," Edgar Ramos, leader of the junior officers, said.

Ramos noted that both sides would attempt to resume negotiations later on Saturday because of "the desire we all have to find solutions once and for all".

"We were disappointed by the government because they only want to raise salaries by 200 bolivianos ($28)," said the leader of the wives, Guadalupe Cardenas, at a press conference after completing the first round of talks.

"They added a safety bonus of 400 bolivianos ($56) to make it appear as a wage increase."

The mutiny, which began on Thursday when protesters took over the headquarters of the country's riot police and eight other police stations, has spread across the nation.

Police mutiny

An estimated 4,000 mutineers are occupying barracks with protests spreading to major cities including Santa Cruz, Cochabamba and Oruro, according to local media and mutiny leaders.

A crowd of some 300 striking police, dressed in civilian clothes and covering their faces, attacked the National Intelligence Directorate on Friday in the capital La Paz, smashing windows and pulling out furniture, documents and computers, and even setting flags ablaze.

Roughly 300 protesters later hurled rocks and shattered windows at national police headquarters. Police on duty outside the building offered no resistance.

Protesters had asked to negotiate directly with President Evo Morales, who spent the day in the presidential palace after returning home from the UN environment summit in Brazil.

A similar mutiny in February 2003 ended violently with police engaging the presidential guard in a firefight, and 19 people killed. Eight months later, then-President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada fled after bloody anti-government protests.

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