Bolivia’s embattled President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada has delayed plans to export natural gas via a pipeline running through Chile as the death toll from weeks of violent protests reaches more than 40.
Police have again clashed with protestors in the capital La Paz, leaving another four people dead, while riots and looting spilled into the city’s residential areas.
Local media has reported that two men died when police with shotguns tried to break up thousands of demonstrators in La Paz, while another two died in El Alto, 12 kilometres west of the city.
Police in El Alto battled the protesters until their tear gas and rubber bullets ran out, forcing them to retreat to their station. Demonstrators also clogged the streets of Cochabamba, Oruro and Potosi.
But President Sanchez de Lozada has defied calls to resign, despite Vice President Carlos Mesa withdrawing his support and the resignation of four cabinet ministers.
Unions are opposed to the construction of the gas pipeline through Chile to the Pacific where gas would be shipped to the United States and Mexico.
Critics say Bolivia’s 18 percent share of the profits is too small, while they also distrust Chile, which wrested control of Bolivia’s outlet to the sea in a conflict more than a century ago.
Other groups, such as coca growers whose crops have been torn up, have since joined the campaign against the 73-year-old president who started his five year term in August 2002.
Bolivia is the poorest country in South America but has the second-largest deposits of natural gas, after Venezuela.