Bolivian protesters march on US Embassy
US decision of granting political asylum to former Bolivian defense minister Carlos Sanchez Berzain has unleashed big protest in the capital La Paz. Thousands of protestors demanded extradition of former defense minister who is accused of ordering a military crackdown killing hundreds of innocent ordinary people.
Thousands of demonstrators marched on the U.S. Embassy Monday to demand that Washington extradite a former Bolivian defense minister who directed a military crackdown on riots that killed at least 60 people in 2003. Former Defense Minister Carlos Sanchez Berzain, now a resident of Key Biscayne, Fla., told La Paz-based Radio Fides last week that the U.S. granted him political asylum more than a year ago.
The revelation sparked outrage in El Alto, a sprawling satellite city outside La Paz where dozens of anti-government rioters were gunned down by soldiers in 2003. On Monday, thousands of residents streamed down the hills into La Paz to demand justice for the killings.
"We've come to the doors of the embassy to say 'Enough with the impunity,'" said Edgar Patana, head of an El Alto labor union leading the protest. "The United States has to prove that they have the justice they're always showing off in their media and movies. Bolivia wants that justice."
Protesters shot fireworks at a U.S. flag flying just beyond the compound's concrete wall, as helmeted Marines looked on from the embassy's roof. When crowds tried to push through a police line, officers cleared the street with tear gas.
Bolivia's government called the use of tear gas excessive. "Security is one thing, repression is another," Government Minister Alfredo Rada told reporters.
La Paz state's police commander was fired Monday night along with top policemen in Bolivia's eight other states. But government officials said the change had been planned since a new national police chief was named last month.
The 2003 "Black October" protests were initially sparked by a government plan to sell Bolivian natural gas to the U.S. by building a pipeline through neighboring rival Chile. The idea angered El Alto's poor, who often struggle to obtain their own gas for cooking and heating.
The protests quickly snowballed as the city's largely Aymara Indian population vented centuries of anger over bitter poverty and political marginalization.
The uprising eventually drove then-President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada from office, fortifying a growing indigenous political movement that brought President Evo Morales to power two years later.
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