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Wednesday 18 October 2017

Miners' leader among three accused over Bolivia minister's death

An honour guard stands vigil over the coffin of Bolivia's deputy interior minister Rodolfo Illanes, at the government palace in La Paz (AP)
An honour guard stands vigil over the coffin of Bolivia's deputy interior minister Rodolfo Illanes, at the government palace in La Paz (AP)

Bolivian authorities have accused the president of a mining federation and two of his top officials of the killing of deputy interior minister Rodolfo Illanes amid a bitter strike.

Mr Illanes was kidnapped and beaten to death by striking mine workers on Thursday after going to the town of Panduro, 80 miles south of La Paz, to mediate in the dispute over mining laws and dwindling salaries.

Three protesters have been killed in clashes with riot police, stoking tensions.

The striking miners had armed themselves with dynamite and seized several roads, stranding thousands of vehicles and passengers.

Bolivia's Attorney General's Office has detained 40 miners, among them protest leader Carlos Mamani, president of the National Federation of Mining Co-operatives of Bolivia.

On Saturday afternoon, Mr Mamani and two other federation officials were accused by the Public Ministry over Mr Illanes' death.

A post-mortem examination found that Mr Illanes died from trauma to the brain and thorax.

A blockaded road in Panduro was clear on Friday as the miners returned to their camps and a funeral mass was held for Mr Illanes in La Paz.

Mr Illanes' murder underscored how President Evo Morales, a former coca growers' union leader, has increasingly found himself at odds with the same kind of popular social movements that fuelled his rise to power and have made up his political base.

The left-wing president called the beating death of the deputy minister "a conspiracy" to overthrow him.

Bolivia's casual miners number about 100,000 and work in self-managed co-operatives producing primarily zinc, tin, silver and gold.

They want to be able to associate with private companies, which promise to put more cash in their pockets, but are currently banned from doing so. The government argues that if they associate with multinational companies they will no longer be co-operatives.

Bolivia has seen increased social agitation as a financial slowdown hit an economy heavily dependent on natural gas and minerals, which account for over 70% of foreign export sales.

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