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Bolivian transport strike causes chaos

Riot police fire tear gas and arrest 58 in a bid to disperse protest over planned overhaul to public transport system.

Bus drivers block an avenue during a previous transport workers' strike in La Paz in 2012. [AP]

A transport workers’ strike protesting against the local government’s plans to regulate public transport has caused chaos in the Bolivian city of El Alto.

The demonstrators, who are also demanding higher wages, blocked a main avenue in the city on Tuesday. Riot police arrived on the scene and fired tear gas in a bid to disperse the protesters.

Local media reported 58 drivers were arrested for damaging passing vehicles who would not support the protesters. Some of the arrested drivers were led away with blood on their faces.

Police managed to clear the roads after protesters set fire to tyres in the middle of the road. Local media reported that 1,200 police officers guarded the highways that lead to the city’s main airports.

A leader of a drivers’ union in El Alto, Marcos Tito Cabrera, said drivers had charged the same ticket rate for the past few decades.

The protesters – who run a network of privately owned minibuses –  said the strike would continue indefinitely if the local authorities did not back down on their plans to modernise public transport systems.

Modern transport systems

“Since the creation of such vehicles (minibuses) for the last 30 or 40 years we have been operating by charging only one Bolivian (peso) as passage. This government in eight years has raised the wages of workers four times, perhaps we are not part of the state but we are also the people,” Cabrera said.

The local government is implementing four modern transport systems in the metropolitan area of two million residents, which the drivers fear will affect their own services in the cities.

An exclusive bus system with special routes is planned, along with an ambitious multimillion-dollar cable car system that will link the two mountain cities of La Paz and El Alto. The system will radically change the way Bolivians move around the city.

The cable car and bus system will aim to offer a faster service than existing modes of city transportation, authorities say.

Source: Reuters