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Last Updated: Friday, 3 June, 2005, 23:26 GMT 00:26 UK
Bolivian protesters reject offer
Residents walk along a blocked road during a public transport strike in El Alto.
Recent protests have brought Bolivia to the brink of standstill
Protests have continued in Bolivia despite promises made by President Carlos Mesa aimed at easing the crisis.

He had announced plans on Thursday for an assembly to rewrite the constitution and for a referendum on more autonomy for resource-rich provinces.

However, neither protest leaders nor the provinces appear to have been placated by President Mesa's proposals.

Mass demonstrations paralysed the city of La Paz for another day, blocking roads and halting public transport.

The past few weeks have seen Bolivia brought to the brink of paralysis by violent protests by left-wing and indigenous groups who are calling for the country's natural gas assets to be nationalised.

They say a law which increases taxes on foreign gas investors does not exert enough control over the country's resources.

They are also fiercely opposed to demands for greater autonomy from energy-rich Bolivian provinces.

'Mesa go home'

The demonstrators want constitutional reform to give more power to the indigenous majority, who are mainly from the impoverished highlands.

I do not think the protests will be called off
Abel Mamani
Protest leader

In an effort to end the impasse, Mr Mesa offered demonstrators from the Bolivian highlands the chance to rewrite the constitution; while regional leaders in energy-rich lowlands would get a referendum on self-rule.

However, left-wing groups say their demand for nationalising energy resources has not been met.

President Mesa has already said he believes the gas law risks punishing the multinationals that have invested billions of dollars in Bolivia's gas fields.

The BBC's South America correspondent says neither side appears satisfied with the president's proposals.

Protesters chanted, "Mesa go home, power for the people," as they marched through La Paz on Friday, clad in colourful ponchos and wielding whips and clubs.

Legality questioned

Leaders of the mainly indigenous protesters doubt that congress will back the president's attempt to call an assembly to change the constitution.

SPLIT STATE
Provinces of Pando, El Beni, Santa Cruz and Tarija seeking more autonomy
They hold most of Bolivia's gas and oil resources
Indigenous Aymara and Quechua peoples make up around 60% of population
Many live in poor Andean highlands
Form majority in La Paz

"We are going to talk it over with the other leaders, but I do not think the protests will be called off because nationalisation of oil and gas is not in the [Mesa] message, and that was the focus for us," Abel Mamani, a protest leader from El Alto near the capital, told the AFP news agency.

Opposition leaders have also questioned the legality of the president's proposals.

Civic leaders in Bolivia's gas-rich eastern provinces are annoyed. They wanted the referendum for regional autonomy to take place before the Assembly.

They fear that a new constitution could pre-empt their demands for greater self-rule, our correspondent says.

Congress is expected to review the president's decree when it reconvenes on Tuesday.

'Critical'

Mr Mesa's announcement of reform plans follows three days of deadlock in congress.

A similar dispute led to the overthrowing of Mr Mesa's predecessor, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, in October 2003.

The president has vowed to remain in office for his full term, despite frequent political crises.

He is backed by the armed forces, which last week sacked two officers after they claimed to represent a new nationalist movement in the military.



SEE ALSO:
Fresh protests in Bolivian city
03 Jun 05 |  Americas
In pictures: Bolivian protests
02 Jun 05 |  In Pictures
Protests derail Bolivia Congress
01 Jun 05 |  Americas
Bolivia admiral denies coup plan
26 May 05 |  Americas
Protests fail to stop Bolivia law
18 May 05 |  Americas
Timeline: Bolivia
08 Mar 05 |  Country profiles


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