- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 13, 2003

LA PAZ, Bolivia, Feb. 13 (UPI) — Deadly protests continued Thursday in Bolivia as thousands of citizens took to the streets calling for the resignation of the president amid widespread discontent over a proposed tax hike.

The death toll for the latest protests that started Wednesday has climbed to nearly two dozen, according to local reports.

Military forces attempting to curtail looting and violence clashed with Bolivian citizens and police demanding that President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada step down after trying to implement a tax measure that lower income Bolivians said unfairly targeted them.

Police are also reportedly calling for a 40 percent pay raise and are furious with the Bolivian government for not receiving their salaries for the last two months.

Officers swapped fire Thursday with military personal outside the presidential palace in La Paz, Bolivia's de facto capital. Bolivian officials had called for a shutdown of public and private works for the day in an effort to reduce the possibility of casualties in the streets throughout the country.

The South American nation's civil and military authorities have maintained a long-standing disdain for one another that dates back to 1952, when during the nation's revolution, soldiers sided with the government authority while the civilian forces allied themselves with revolting citizens.

The unrest in the Andean state first began on Tuesday when Lozada sent his wage increase measure to Congress. Pressed by the surge of violence Wednesday night, he revoked the tax initiative in an effort to deter further bloodshed.

Before the president's announcement, however, protesters, including the striking police forces, hurled tear gas canisters at the presidential palace, while the troops returned the fire in kind.

"They were firing gas canisters at each other point blank," one observer in La Paz told United Press International, recounting how he saw a policeman hit in the face by a canister and bleed profusely.

Wednesday's violence was kicked off in the morning when students and workers gathered in front of the government headquarters to denounce Lozada. Bolivian soldiers confronted the protesters around noon, turning the square into a "battle zone," according to local reports, with the military firing shots into the crowd and the protesters setting fire to several government buildings.

While Bolivia has had some recent success transferring itself into a market-oriented society, the slow growth rates in the late 1990s fueled discontent in the country's low-income sectors, leading to major civil disturbances in both 2000 and the following year.

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