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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 October, 2003, 18:54 GMT 19:54 UK
Bolivia to examine protest deaths
President Mesa speaks to the armed forces
President Mesa told the armed forces to respect human rights

The new President of Bolivia, Carlos Mesa, has promised an investigation into the killing of more than 60 people during five weeks of violent protests.

The armed forces, he said, had had a difficult task to perform during the demonstrations by thousands of people in major cities such as La Paz but the loss of life was unacceptable.

Mr Mesa, vice-president until the resignation of Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada on Friday, has also started to put together a new cabinet.

He said he wanted to create an administration independent of traditional political ties to help tackle poverty and social inequality.

"I believe that the first fundamental step is to show the world that the Bolivian people... are capable of working for peace," he told reporters.

We are going to have problems with Mesa. He has deals with the gringos of the United States
Felipe Quispe
Indigenous Congress
Bulldozers have been working over the weekend to clear the streets of debris left by more than a month of protests over plans to export natural 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.

Mr Mesa describes his role as heading a "transitional government" and has offered to hold early elections.

Mixed support

Shortly after taking office, Mr Mesa ordered tanks and soldiers back to their bases.

Human rights groups say the security forces were to blame for a majority of the deaths during the demonstrations.

Mr Mesa told senior military officials on Saturday that their primary obligation was "to defend constitutional order, in a rational way, and to respect human rights".

He has also met political and labour leaders who were involved in the anti-government protests.

Anti-government protesters in La Paz, Bolivia
The protests left more than 60 people dead
Congressman Evo Morales, a leader of coca-growers who came second in last year's presidential elections, has said he will co-operate with the new leader.

But fellow Indian leader Felipe Quispe said there were still road blockades in the Andean heartland.

He said the new president had 90 days to fulfil demands to abandon the gas project and US-backed coca eradication programme or face new protests.

"We are going to have problems with Mesa," he told local radio. "He has deals with the gringos of the United States. We can't be happy."

Mr Mesa has promised to do more for the indigenous Indian population but said there would be "no major changes" to the US-backed policy of eliminating coca crops - the raw material for cocaine.

He has however pointed out that a significant portion of the crop was grown for traditional uses such as chewing.

'Shame'

The former president, now in exile in Florida, has said he is trying to recover from the "shock and shame" of his forced resignation.

Speaking to the Miami Herald, he said he was worried about the alliance of Indian coca-growers and leftist labour leaders involved in the recent protests and in other demonstrations since he his election victory last year.

He said feared a "narco-labour government" taking power in Bolivia.


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


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