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Bolivian Police Use Tear Gas in Protest

January 18, 2003

COCHABAMBA, Bolivia (AP) _ Security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse scores of protesters Friday in the fifth straight day of demonstrations against a coca eradication program.

Prostesters since Monday have shut down the main highway linking this key central city to Santa Cruz, 200 miles to the east, by heaping boulders and logs along the roadway.

That action continued Friday as thousands turned out to oppose a U.S.-sponsored, government plan to destroy illegal coca crops _ the base ingredient used to make cocaine.

Helmeted police chased demonstrators through the streets, firing tear gas into crowds gathered behind barricades of garbage cans and burning tires.

Doctor Eduardo Arnez said he treated three young men for shotgun wounds. He claimed that police fired the weapons.

Evo Morales, a Bolivian congressman and leader of the country’s coca farmers, has led the protests, which began intermittently after talks between the government and his group collapsed in December.

In addition, organizers say thousands of Bolivians angered by the government’s decision to sign a hemispheric free trade agreement have also taken to the streets.

Since the latest round of protests erupted Monday, the independent Permanent Assembly of Human Rights for Bolivia says security forces have shot and killed five protesters. The government has not confirmed the number of casualties.

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