Bolivian protests continue

Responding to some protesters’ demands, Mr Mesa said he would allow a rewrite of the constitution, and hold a binding referendum on regional autonomy sought in the more prosperous east, where most gas reserves are located.

“I do not think the protests will be called off because nationalization of oil and gas is not in the (Mesa) message, and that was the focus for us,” said Abel Mamani, head of a group from El Alto, outside the capital.

Mr Mamani spoke as farmers, laborers and activists maintained their effort to keep a stranglehold on the capital to pressure lawmakers and the Mesa government.

“The country is experiencing a very critical moment, a high risk, confrontational situation and in this context we cannot wait until Tuesday,” Mr Mesa said on Thursday in a televised speech.

Tuesday had been set for a debate in Congress on constitutional reform and a referendum on autonomy.

The Roman Catholic Church has agreed to set up a national dialogue, but only so long as “violence, intransigence and radicalisation of demands are replaced with sincere, constructive dialogue respecting persons and opinions.”

However, the government rejected suggestions of international mediation during this weekend’s Organization of American States general assembly in the American state of Florida.

The confrontation with the legislature and the government began on May 17 when Congress approved an energy law giving Bolivia a greater stake in the country’s lucrative natural gas industry.

Foreign oil companies operating in Bolivia claim the legislation gives the government far too much control, while the opposition left-wing minority and many protesters say it falls far short of their goal of full nationalisation of the oil and gas industry.

Meanwhile, Australians are among a number of foreign tourists trapped in the capital La Paz as it remains cut off by protesters and roadblocks which have been set up around the city.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs is warning against all travel to La Paz and is urging Australians in Bolivia to register their whereabouts.