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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 October, 2003, 16:35 GMT 17:35 UK
Papers split on Bolivia crisis
Bolivian soldiers on the street
Dozens have been killed in the protests so far

As violent protests are set to continue in Bolivia over President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada's controversial gas exports scheme, the Bolivian press is divided as to who to blame for the unrest.

Some papers accuse the government of "arrogance", but others say it has been too lenient in its treatment of the protesters' ringleaders.

Papers in neighbouring Chile and Peru, meanwhile, ponder the widening split in the Bolivian Government and draw parallels with Ecuador, whose president was deposed in 2000.

La Paz's El Diario backs the opposition's call for a referendum on the gas exports, which would rely on port facilities in Chile and leave only 18% of profits in Bolivia.

"That demand - stained in the blood of dozens of compatriots killed and injured in the defence of the natural resources - remains alive despite the government's stubborn attitude," it says.

The paper adds that Bolivia needs to take a more rational part in the exploitation of its own gas reserves.

Those in government must listen to the people and stop adopting arrogant positions
La Razon (Bolivia)

"The wise and intelligent thing to do is to open up the path of economic reconstruction for the country, which has been so damaged and impoverished by the imposition of transnational formulae," it says.

Call for crackdown

By contrast, the Santa Cruz daily El Deber blames the violence on the authorities' delay in enforcing public order.

"Although it is no longer any use crying over spilt milk - or blood - we must once again condemn the authorities' leniency in the strongest terms," it says.

The paper urges the government to nip the violence in the bud and arrest those who disturb the peace.

"With a few hundred ringleaders jailed in time and a few of them banished or exiled... our poor country might have got back on the road to peace some time ago," it concludes.

Another La Paz daily, La Razon, agrees. It says President Gonzalo Sanchez de Losada must "think and act swiftly" to calm the fears of Bolivians.

Crowds in Bolivian street
Bolivia is braced for more unrest

While accusing the unions of exploiting the gas issue to attack the government, it also expresses some understanding of the popular unrest.

"It is necessary to be on the side of legitimacy, of defending democracy, but at the same time those in government must listen to the people and stop adopting arrogant positions," the paper concludes.

Wider issues

Papers in neighbouring countries take an interest in wider aspects of the crisis.

The Peruvian daily La Republica notes that opposition leader Evo Morales' stance against the export of Bolivian gas via Chile is supported by a wide spectrum of political and social forces.

But it says Mr Morales is now issuing what it calls an "ultra-nationalist" demand that the gas should be for Bolivians themselves.

The paper dismisses this call on the grounds that internal consumption would account for under 10% of Bolivia's gas reserves.

"It is clear that the sale of the gas to the USA is a key project for its development, but the strikers denounce the contract," it says.

Chile's La Tercera recalls the fate of Ecuadorean former President Jamil Mahuad, deposed in 2000 amid an indigenous and military uprising.

But although many people say the Bolivian president's departure would resolve the crisis, much more than that is needed, it says.

"The problem brings difficulties that will not be solved without a national political pact," the paper argues.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

The BBC's Emily Buchanan
"The worst civil unrest since the country returned to democracy"

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