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Protests Continue in Bolivia

April 12, 2000

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) _ A protest leader has called for a stop to weeklong violent demonstrations in Bolivia after Congress passed legislation revising a planned water hike.

Students clashed with police in La Paz earlier Tuesday, however, and anti-government protests continued in other regions.

Hours after the clashes in La Paz, the leader of protests in Cochabamba _ the city where demonstrations broke out April 3 _ called on residents to cease all protests.

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’s Oscar Olivera’s call for calm came not long after Congress approved legislation removing one 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.

Cochabamba, 350 miles east of La Paz, had returned to normal. But earlier Tuesday, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at rock-throwing students in clashes that lasted for several hours in the center of La Paz, the capital.

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

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

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 around Cochabamba.

The Bolivian Workers Confederation _ the leading workers’ union grouping farmers, teachers, factory workers and miners _ called for a general strike today 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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