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Protests Continue in Bolivia

April 12, 2000

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) _ Students clashed with police and anti-government protests continued in some regions Tuesday, but a protest leader called for a stop to weeklong violent protests after an agreement with the government.

Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at rock-throwing students in clashes that lasted for several hours in the center of in La Paz, the country’s seat of government.

After fighting running skirmishes with police, the students retreated to their campuses. A university professor, Jaime Vilela, said 15 students were injured and around 50 detained.

Elsewhere, a strike shut down Potosi, a mining city of 160,000 located high in the Andes, where local leaders said the government is indifferent to their economic problems.

Hours after the clashes in La Paz, the leader of protests in Cochabamba called for residents of that city, Bolivia’s third largest, to cease all demonstrations. The city returned to normal as thousands of demonstrators began returning home after the agreement reached Monday night.

It was in Cochabamba, 350 miles east of La Paz, that demonstrations broke out April 3 to protest a planned water hike. The protests spread throughout the country, leaving six dead and prompting a ``state of siege″ decree giving police and the military a freer rein to crack down.

Protest leader Oscar Olivera called for a stop to protests hours after Congress passed legislation Tuesday revising the water law as required under the agreement.

Congress removed a clause that would have pegged water rates to the U.S. dollar, and another that would have forced peasants to pay for using water from wells.

Under the agreement, the government canceled the contract granted to Aguas del Tunari, an international water company pushing for the water price hike.

Peasant leaders and government officials also opened negotiations aimed at lifting roadblocks and ending demonstrations at Aymara Indian communities, where soldiers and local residents fought over the weekend, leaving six dead and more than 50 injured.

The talks are mediated by representatives of the Catholic Church.

While the water conflict sparked the protests, the government admitted difficult economic conditions played a major role. Information Minister Ronald MacLean attributed the crisis at least in part to the raise of international oil prices.

On Monday, MacLean said drug traffickers were backing the demonstrations in an attempt to stop a government program to eradicate production of coca leaf, used to make cocaine.

The destruction of coca leaf plantations has deprived thousands of peasants of their sole means of income, especially in the area around Cochabamba.

The Bolivian Workers Confederation _ the leading workers’ union grouping farmers, teachers, factory workers and miners _ called for a general strike Wednesday against the ``state of siege″ decree passed Saturday. That decree suspended many constitutional guarantees, allowing police to detain protest leaders without a warrant, restrict travel and political activity and establish a curfew.

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