February 18, 2003

Bolivians march, denounce president

Monday protests pass without reports of violence

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) --Thousands of Bolivians took to the streets Monday, calling for
President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada to resign and denouncing the government's
handling of a deepening economic crisis.

A long column of farmers and unionists descended on the downtown Plaza San
Francisco, shouting anti-government slogans and decrying the military's use of
force during last week's deadly riots triggered by an unpopular tax plan.

"The president must resign!" and "Long live the Bolivian worker!"
demonstrators chanted. Shopkeepers pulled down metal gates to protect their
storefronts as the protesters marched by, fearing a repeat of the looting that
engulfed La Paz on Wednesday.

Last week's disturbances began when 7,000 police seeking a 40 percent raise
walked off the job to protest a government plan for a new tax to reduce the
budget deficit as required by the International Monetary Fund in exchange for
new funds.

Clashes between government troops and striking police and protesters left 22
dead and more than 100 people injured. During hours of mayhem, looters
ransacked dozens of businesses and torched at least 13 government buildings.

No violence was reported during Monday's march, which coincided with a
nationwide general strike called by leaders of Bolivia's largest workers union.
The strike appeared to only have a limited effect as most businesses were open.

Sanchez de Lozada huddles with aides

As he led some 3,000 demonstrators, union boss Juan Melendez Perez blamed
the country's economic woes on the IMF and called on the government to
ignore its demand for spending cuts.

"If the president wants to adhere to those policies, then he must go," he said.

As the protesters marched, Sanchez de Lozada met with his top aides over
ways to drastically scale back government spending. Among the proposals,
government officials said, was a reduction in the number of cabinet positions
and a tightening of staff expenses.

Late Sunday, Sanchez de Lozada also announced he would no longer accept
his salary for the remainder of his term.

A U.S.-educated mining executive, Sanchez de Lozada, 72, took office last
August. He served as president previously, from 1993 to 1997, and won office
last year with only 22 percent of the vote.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press.