Five disabled protesters in Bolivia have begun a hunger strike in their campaign demanding that the government pay an annual subsidy to disabled people, following clashes in La Paz.
About 1,000 disabled Bolivians and their supporters rallied outside the country's parliament building on Thursday following a 100-day protest journey to the capital to call for the $700 payment.
Clashes broke out outside parliament as crowds of protesters demanding access to the building pushed up against riot police.
“We aren’t asking for any favours from the government,” said Luis Felipe Leigue, one of the leaders of the disabled group, which numbers 46,000 across the country.
“We are asking for what rightly belongs to us. We are asking them to approve the law that we drafted and they are not doing it. We want to make it to Murillo Square [the parliament square], a place that belongs to all Bolivians, and they won’t let us.”
When their caravan arrived in La Paz, they were met by police in riot gear; some were beaten, tased, and teargased.
Hundreds of protesters, some in wheelchairs or on crutches, settled into makeshift camps in the streets around the square, with some even stripping down to their underwear as a form of protest.
On Friday, the Bolivian government said infiltrators had provoked the violent response from police.
The protesters began marching November 15 in the eastern city of Trinidad, and have covered approximately 1,750 km.
They claim that President Evo Morales has failed to comply with a 2006 law that diverted funds from political parties and citizen organisations to the disabled.
The law reportedly re-routed some $6m annually to the disabled but they say the money never made it to them.
Demonstrations are common in Bolivia where Morales, the country's first indigenous leader who was elected in 2005 on a promise to give more rights to the country's poor majority, faces regular protests from his own powerbase.