The Washington Post
Monday, October 13, 2003; Page A13

Bolivian Clashes Claim More Lives

Protests Over President's Policies Continue as Supplies Run Low


LA PAZ, Bolivia, Oct. 12 -- As many as eight protesters were reported killed Sunday after Bolivia's government sent thousands of troops backed by tanks to quell
increasingly violent protests against President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada.

Witnesses told local radio that the protesters were killed during pitched battles with troops clearing roadblocks in and around the poor industrial suburb of El Alto
that have choked food and gasoline supplies to the capital, La Paz.

The government, which has played down death tolls in recent protests, said four civilians and one soldier were killed and that about 30 others were injured.

Sunday's clashes raised to 19 the number of people killed during a month-long wave of protests. The demonstrators criticize Sanchez de Lozada's free-market
policies and say he has failed to tackle crushing poverty in Bolivia, South America's poorest nation.

Fuel and basic foods were running short in the capital as thousands of poor Bolivian farmers and workers, calling for Sanchez de Lozada to quit, stopped convoys of
trucks entering the Andean city.

"A military operation is underway to regain control of El Alto," presidential spokesman Mauricio Antezana told reporters. He said the government could decree a
curfew there at any time to stop what it perceived as a coup attempt -- a charge it has made several times in the past.

Witnesses said troops stood guard on the main road in El Alto, the center of recent anti-government protests.

Bolivia's flagship airline suspended flights out of La Paz because of security fears, but the international airport was still operating under the guard of troops.

Sunday's violence was the worst since February, when a government austerity drive backed by the International Monetary Fund sparked massive riots in which 32
people died.

Two people were killed Saturday and dozens more were injured as protesters fought with police and security forces outside the capital, local media reported.

Protests by the country's poor Indian majority against Sanchez de Lozada have spiraled in the last month during an economic downturn in this nation of 8 million

Indian leader and lawmaker Evo Morales, who nearly won the presidency in 2002, rejected the government's claims of a coup bid.

"They are the subversive ones who are trying to act like coup leaders," he told reporters.

An unpopular project to export natural gas to the United States through Chile -- which has had tense diplomatic relations with Bolivia because of a border dispute --
has also become a lightning rod for protests.

Sanchez de Lozada, a U.S. ally in the anti-drug war, has played down the protests and defied calls to step down.

Transport workers and coca farmers -- angry at a U.S.-backed drive to eradicate illegal crops of coca, which is used to make cocaine -- may join the protests

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