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State of siege in Bolivian province

September 14, 2008|Carlos Valdez | Associated Press

LA PAZ, BOLIVIA — Bolivian President Evo Morales decreed a state of siege and sent troops Friday to an eastern province where at least eight people were killed in clashes between opposition and government activists. Troops took control of the airport in Cobija, the capital of Pando province, and fired shots to disperse protesters. Opposition Sen. Ronal Camargo and Fides radio reported one person was killed and several wounded in the operation.

But that information was not confirmed by Defense Minister Walker San Miguel, who announced the decree alongside Bolivia's interior minister.

The state of siege, which prohibits people from gathering or carrying weapons, aims "to safeguard lives and the collective good," Interior Minister Alfredo Rada told reporters.

The move came hours after Morales and opposition governors from four eastern provinces that are in revolt against him agreed to talks on ending the crisis.

"We all agree that we have to look for a point of compromise," said Carlos Dabdoub, secretary for autonomy in the eastern province of Santa Cruz -- a hotbed of anti-Morales opposition.

Tarija Gov. Mario Cossio said he would travel to La Paz for negotiations. "The first step will be to bring peace to the country, and second to reach an agreement," he said.

Anti-government protesters fought Morales backers with clubs, machetes and guns and seized natural gas fields on Thursday. At least eight died in Pando, and 36 were hurt.

Government opponents are demanding Morales cancel a Dec. 7 nationwide vote on a new constitution that would help him centralize power, run for a second consecutive term and transfer fallow terrain to landless peasants.

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