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Violent Protests Bring Bolivian Capital to Halt

June 01, 2005|From Reuters

LA PAZ, Bolivia — Violent clashes between police and protesters and massive marches by indigenous groups in La Paz paralyzed the capital Tuesday, scaring lawmakers and forcing suspension of a session of Bolivia's Congress.

Riot police outside Congress lobbed tear gas and fired water cannons to repel protesters, who fired sticks of dynamite with slingshots. Thousands demanding nationalization of the energy sector took over the city and blocked access to the airport.

At night, police reported looting of vendors' stalls and attacks on vehicles. Interior Minister Saul Lara said protesters had been arrested, but he did not say how many.

President Carlos Mesa had vowed to guarantee safety for the first session of Congress in two weeks, at which lawmakers were supposed to debate measures to defuse widespread protests over a new energy law.

Only 62 of the 130 deputies dared to venture into the city's narrow colonial streets and past heavily guarded police barriers, prompting lower house chairman Mario Cossio to suspend the session for lack of a quorum. Even the president of Congress, Hormando Vaca Diez, did not appear.

Mesa, a political independent with few friends in Congress, came to power in 2003 after Indian protests ousted his pro-Washington predecessor, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada.

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