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Protesters Declare Truce in Bolivia

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.newsday.com/news/nationworld/world/ats-ap_intl14jun10,0,4617811.story?coll=ny-leadworldnews-headlines Protesters Declare Truce in Bolivia By BILL
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 10, 2005
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      http://www.newsday.com/news/nationworld/world/ats-ap_intl14jun10,0,4617811.story?coll=ny-leadworldnews-headlines

      Protesters Declare Truce in Bolivia

      By BILL CORMIER
      Associated Press Writer

      June 10, 2005, 5:08 PM EDT

      LA PAZ, Bolivia -- Protesters who drove Bolivia's
      president from office began to leave occupied oil
      fields Friday and lifted the first of their 100-odd
      roadblocks as the country's new leader moved into the
      Government Palace.

      But demonstrators marched on the capital, La Paz, in a
      show of strength to make sure the new caretaker
      president respects pledges to call early elections and
      consider their demands for an end to widespread
      inequality and poverty.

      Evo Morales, the congressman who led the protests,
      declared a "truce" in a month of demonstrations and
      consulted with other opposition leaders on whether to
      declare a formal end to the protests after Eduardo
      Rodriguez became president.

      "One must understand that he is the new president and
      he has expressed a commitment to listen to our
      demands," said Morales, a former coca farmer with
      designs on the presidency. "His election is easing the
      tensions and we are going to accept a truce."

      But it was clear from his first day in office that
      Rodriguez, the Supreme Court justice tapped to end the
      escalating crisis, would have no honeymoon.

      As Rodriguez stood Friday in La Paz's Government
      Palace to receive the presidential sash, firecrackers
      boomed and thousands of protesters marched only blocks
      away.

      The Harvard-trained jurist has a daunting challenge:
      to defuse a country on edge whose majority Indians,
      coca-leaf farmers and leftist labor and student groups
      are clamoring for a greater share of power, for
      nationalizing the oil industry and for backing away
      from U.S.-style free-market programs they blame for
      widespread poverty.

      Rodriguez said he would call presidential elections
      within five months to complete the term of Carlos
      Mesa, a U.S. ally who resigned after 19 chaotic months
      in power because of the enormous street protests.

      Congress accepted his resignation late Thursday.
      Fearing more protests, the two men in line for the
      presidency both deferred to Rodriguez. Under Bolivia's
      constitution, Rodriguez must call presidential
      elections within 150 days -- about five months.

      Morales is expected to be a leading candidate. A
      presidency of Morales, an Aymara Indian who calls
      himself a follower of Venezuela's anti-American
      President Hugo Chavez, would bring to seven the number
      of leftist leaders in Latin America.

      He could face former President Jorge Quiroga, a
      U.S.-trained engineer of Spanish descent who governed
      from 2001-2002 with a free-market government. Quiroga
      has not yet said whether he would run.

      Rodriguez promised to study ways to bring together
      Bolivia's society, polarized between haves and
      have-nots, between people with more Indian or more
      European blood, and between long-established ruling
      elites and powerless poor.

      "Let's build the peace together and create a great
      national unity accord that will let us confront the
      great challenges facing our country," said Rodriguez,
      49.

      Protests clogged La Paz on Friday, but with fewer
      people than the tens of thousands who marched in
      previous days.

      Sanet Pardo, one of 1,500 teachers and labor activists
      on the streets, said the show of strength was a
      warning to the new president that the opposition wants
      action.

      "We are still right here," Pardo said. "We are
      demanding the nationalization of the oil industry 100
      percent. Until we get an answer we are going to keep
      marching, because there are no jobs, lots of hunger
      and we still don't have answers -- even with this new
      clown."

      Protesters removed some of the more than 70 roadblocks
      across the country, and energy companies said radical
      farmers had pulled out of several occupied oil fields.

      "Bolivia has avoided the worst," said political
      scientist Jorge Lazarte.

      But slum dwellers in El Alto, above La Paz, signaled
      they weren't ready to lift the blockade keeping trucks
      away, and residents who have suffered through a month
      of shortages continued to wait.

      Yaguar Marquez, who runs a gas station with not a drop
      in the pumps, said he had to turn away a motorist on
      his way to the hospital with a woman in labor, an
      ambulance and a hearse loaded with a casket.

      "I guess the bodies were already starting to decompose
      at the funeral homes and there was no way to get to
      them to the cemeteries," he said. "A hearse pulled up
      and the driver said he had to get some gas. I told him
      we didn't have any, so I guess someone gave him a
      push."
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