GeriGündem Bolivian president, foes dig in as unrest worsens
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Bolivian president, foes dig in as unrest worsens

Bolivian president, foes dig in as unrest worsens
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Bolivia was Sunday facing worsening strife after President Evo Morales and his political foes exchanged ultimatums and blame over unrest that has already claimed at least 17 lives.

The crisis has taken on international proportions, with the U.S. ambassador to Bolivia due to return to Washington after being booted out by Morales, and Brazil and Argentina concerned over natural gas supplies from their beleaguered neighbor.


The unrest was the biggest challenge Morales has faced since becoming Bolivia’s first indigenous president in 2006.


His attempts to railroad through socialist reforms to redistribute land and natural gas revenues to the country’s six-million-strong indigenous majority have been met with fierce resistance from conservative governors in five of Bolivia’s nine states -- Santa Cruz, Pando, Beni, Tarija and Chuquisaca.

They are opposed to his call for a December referendum to decide a new constitution enshrining his changes, and want more control over revenues from lucrative gas fields. They are pushing for autonomy.


Chief opposition figure Ruben Costas, the governor of the eastern state of Santa Cruz, told reporters overnight that prospects of a negotiated solution to the unrest were dim.


"We warn that if there is just one more death or person wounded, any possibility of dialogue will be broken," he said.


Morales, for his part, told union leaders in central Bolivia that he would not deviate from his push for controversial socialist reforms that sparked the rebellion.


"We have always cried fatherland or death. If we don’t emerge victorious, we have to die for the country and the Bolivian people," said the left-wing leader, who took power as Bolivia’s first indigenous president in 2006.


His government accused the opposition governor of the northern state of Pando of being responsible for most of the deaths that occurred there since Tuesday.


Interior Minister Alfredo Rada said Governor Leopoldo Fernandez was suspected of being behind a "massacre" of 16 rural workers by anti-government militants, some of whom were said to be armed state government employees.


A local farmer’s leader, Shirley Segovia, told Erbol radio that the victims "were killed like pigs, with machine guns, with rifles, with shotguns, with revolvers."
Unconfirmed reports said Fernandez had fled to neighboring Brazil.


Morales decreed martial law for the state and sent 100 troops by airplane to the principal city of Cobija to retake the airport which had been seized by protesters. One of the soldiers was killed in the operation, the defense ministry said.


Information coming out of Cobija, Pando’s principal city, was difficult to verify because there were no flights there, and roadblocks in much of eastern Bolivia hindered ground traffic.


As the violence dragged on, Bolivia and the United States were locked in their worst dispute in years.


U.S. ambassador Philip Goldberg was due to return to the United States on Sunday, after Morales declared him persona non grata for allegedly encouraging the break-up of Bolivia by supporting opposition figures.


Washington has retaliated by ordering home the ambassador from Bolivia -- and from Venezuela, after that country also booted out its U.S. ambassador in a show of solidarity with Morales.


Photo: AFP













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