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Last Updated: Monday, 16 May, 2005, 22:48 GMT 23:48 UK
Bolivians stage huge energy rally
A protest in La Paz, Bolivia, on 16 May 2005
Left-wing groups want Bolivia's energy industry to be nationalised
Thousands of protesters in Bolivia have marched through the main city of La Paz to pressure the president to toughen a controversial new energy bill.

Police prevented the mainly indigenous demonstrators from entering the central square. There were a few clashes, but the march was largely peaceful.

Elsewhere, other protesters set up roadblocks on several key highways.

President Carlos Mesa refuses to sign the bill into law because he considers the level of taxes unworkable.

The law, already approved by Congress, would raise the taxes paid by foreign energy firms to 50% of their revenues.

President Mesa is backed by business groups, but opposed by peasants, coca farmers and trade unionists, who want the bill to be made stricter.

The president has until Tuesday to make a final decision, but the BBC's Elliott Gotkine in La Paz says he is looking increasingly isolated.

Testing week

Trade unions, landless peasant farmers and neighbourhood groups are demanding the nationalisation of Bolivia's energy industry.

Map of Bolivia
Thousands headed to La Paz from the sprawling satellite city of El Alto.

Some waved the rainbow-coloured flag of Aymara nationalism and others carried effigies of Mr Mesa.

Our correspondent says they see him as a stooge of the foreign energy companies working in Bolivia.

They say that nationalisation of the gas industry is the only way they will benefit from Bolivia's greatest natural resource.

Elsewhere in the country coca farmers, miners and supporters of opposition leader Evo Morales began a 200km (125 miles) march to La Paz.

Our correspondent says this week will be one of the most testing for Mr Mesa since he came to power 18 months ago.

He is expected to make some amendments to the bill before sending it back to Congress for final approval.

Our correspondent says this should reduce the sense of uncertainty in Bolivia, but it is unlikely to be the end of the president's problems.

Plans to export the country's gas sparked a wave of deadly protests in October 2003 and resulted in President Mesa's predecessor being forced from office.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Protestors clash with security forces in La Paz




SEE ALSO:
Bolivian row over energy tax law
14 May 05 |  Americas
Bolivia leader to stay in office
18 Mar 05 |  Americas
Opposition ends Bolivia blockades
17 Mar 05 |  Americas
Bolivia leader seeks early poll
16 Mar 05 |  Americas
Bolivia unions intensify protests
10 Mar 05 |  Americas
Q&A: Turmoil in Bolivia
07 Mar 05 |  Americas


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