THE WASHINGTON TIMES
September 12, 2008
8 dead in anti-government protests
A supporter of the governing Movement for Socialism party, is armed with an iron with nails at a blockade near Santa Cruz.
Bus passengers are forced to finish their journey on foot after the vehicle was stopped by a blockade near Santa Cruz, Bolivia. The eastern city is an opposition stronghold. (Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)
LA PAZ, Bolivia | Anti-government protesters fought backers of President Evo Morales on Thursday in Bolivia's pro-autonomy east with clubs, machetes and guns and seized more natural gas fields.
At least eight people were killed and 20 injured in street fights, authorities reported.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials - angered by Mr. Morales' decision to expel Washington's ambassador after accusing him of inciting opposition protesters - responded Thursday by kicking out Bolivia's top diplomat. Earlier in the day, Bolivian officials told U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that they wanted to maintain ties.
In a show of solidarity with his ally Mr. Morales, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez gave the U.S. ambassador to his country 72 hours to leave and announced the recall of Venezuela's ambassador to Washington.
Half of Bolivia's natural gas exports to Brazil - its No. 1 customer - were halted for nearly seven hours on Thursday because of sabotage by anti-Morales activists, according to the affected Transierra pipeline company.
Protesters also stormed the Pocitos gas installation that supplies neighboring Argentina. Plant technicians shut off gas to the country as a precautionary measure, an engineer at Pocitos told the Associated Press.
However, an executive with Transportadora Gas del Norte, the Argentine pipeline company that receives the Bolivian gas, told the AP that the gas flow was unaffected Thursday.
Bolivia's finance minister, meanwhile, said gas deliveries to Brazil would be curtailed by 10 percent for up to two weeks as workers fix a pipeline ruptured by protesters on Wednesday.
A two-week protest against Mr. Morales' plans to redo the constitution and redirect gas revenues turned violent this week as demonstrators in the country's energy-rich eastern provinces stormed public offices, blocked roads and seized gas fields.
In Washington, the administration of President Bush ordered Bolivia's ambassador to leave after Bolivia expelled the U.S. envoy there.
Mr. Morales had accused U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg of conspiring with Bolivia's conservative opposition. The envoy met last week with Santa Cruz Gov. Ruben Costas, one of Mr. Morales' most virulent opponents.
In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez threatened military intervention if Mr. Morales were to be overthrown.
"It would give us a green light to begin whatever operations are necessary to restore the people's power," he said.
Later Thursday, Mr. Chavez expelled U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela Patrick Duddy.
"They're trying to do here what they were doing in Bolivia," Mr. Chavez said in a televised speech, hours after accusing a group of current and former military officers of trying to assassinate him and topple the government with support from the Washington. He didn't offer evidence.
"That's enough ... from you, Yankees," he added, using an expletive.
U.S. officials have repeatedly denied Mr. Chavez's accusations that Washington has backed plots against him.
• AP writers Marco Sibaja, Bradley Brooks, Frank Bajak, Ian James and Matthew Lee contributed to this report.