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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 October, 2003, 02:56 GMT 03:56 UK
Calm returns to Bolivia
Bolivian miners celebrate
Many of the protesters are returning to their farms and villages

Bulldozers are clearing debris from the streets of La Paz after weeks of anti-government protests that forced Bolivian President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada to quit.

His successor, former vice-president Carlos Mesa, marked his first day in office by ordering tanks and soldiers off the streets of La Paz and calling for national unity.

Mr Mesa said those responsible for more than 60 deaths during the protests must be brought to justice "without vengeance".

For the first time in a week, buses are running in the country's main city, the airport has reopened and people have been out shopping for groceries.

Many of the tens of thousands of Indian workers and farmers who took part in demonstrations in major cities have started returning to their farms and villages.

New Bolivian President Carlos Mesa waves to Congress, 17 October 2003
Bolivia is still not a country of equals. We must understand our peoples, our (indigenous) Quechuas and Aymaras
President Carlos Mesa

Mr Mesa, a respected journalist and political independent, offered to hold early elections and promised to do more for the indigenous Indian population.

He said there would be "no major changes" to the US-backed policy of eliminating coca crops - the raw material for cocaine.

But he pointed out that a significant portion of the crop was grown for traditional uses such as chewing.

Mr Sanchez de Lozada's resignation, just 14 months into his term, followed more than a month of protests over plans to export natural gas.

Referendum on gas

Mr Mesa admitted that one of his administration's most important decisions would be whether or not to sell the gas, and if so, through which country.

But he stressed that the matter would be put to a referendum.

Anti-government protesters in La Paz, Bolivia

He said he would not complete Mr Sanchez de Lozada's term, which ends in 2007 - describing himself as heading a "transitional government".

He also said the US ambassador had assured him of the support of President George Bush.

The US State Department earlier praised the former president and expressed regret for the circumstances that led to him stepping down.

Mr Sanchez de Lozada flew to Miami with his family and political associates after resigning.

Latin American leaders have offered support to the new Bolivian president in his efforts to restore peace and stability.

Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva telephoned Mr Mesa and "put the Brazilian government at the disposition of the new president" to support him.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez compared Bolivia's crisis with riots in Caracas 14 years ago when troops killed hundreds of protesters.

He said both events were "in my opinion, a rebellion of the poor" brought about by the failure neo-liberal economic policies.

The Bolivian El Diario website reported that the Brazilian leader and President Nestor Kirchner of Argentina have decided to send two international envoys to try to mediate in any conflict between the government, opposition parties and civil organisations.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Elliott Gotkine
"Bolivia now has the headache of trying to regain some sense of normality"



SEE ALSO:
Profile: Evo Morales
18 Oct 03  |  Americas
Bolivian leader's acceptance speech
18 Oct 03  |  Americas
In pictures: Bolivia clashes
13 Oct 03  |  Photo Gallery
Q and A: Bolivian gas protests
16 Oct 03  |  Americas
Country profile: Bolivia
06 Sep 03  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Bolivia
14 Oct 03  |  Country profiles


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