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Bolivian President Seeks Ouster of US Ambassador

Bolivian President Evo Morales has asked U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg to leave Bolivia, after accusing him of instigating protests against the South American country.

President Morales was quoted Wednesday in La Paz as saying Goldberg is conspiring against democracy and wants Bolivia to break apart. President Morales did not offer any specific evidence in leveling the accusations.

State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid rejected the charges against Goldberg as "baseless" and said the U.S. Embassy in La Paz has not received any request from Bolivia for Goldberg to leave.

Relations between the United States and Bolivia are already strained. Bolivia has accused the U.S. of meddling in its internal affairs. Last year, Bolivia accused Ambassador Goldberg of trying to overthrow the government. The U.S. denied the allegation.

The latest development coincided with an attack by Bolivian anti-government protesters on a natural gas pipeline in the southern state of Tarija. Bolivian energy officials say the attack forced a 10 percent cut in exports to neighboring Brazil. The Brazilian energy ministry, however, says the gas flow remains normal.

The head of the Bolivian state energy company, Santos Ramirez, said gas exports to Brazil have been reduced by about three million cubic meters due to what he described as a "terrorist act" against the pipeline. He said the government will need about three weeks to fix the pipeline.

Brazil depends on Bolivia for half of its natural gas, receiving about 30 million cubic meters a day. Bolivia has the second largest natural gas reserves in South America after Venezuela.

One day earlier, demonstrators in eastern Bolivia clashed with police and broke into government offices as protests escalated against the planned economic reforms of President Evo Morales.

Opposition groups in Bolivia's oil-rich eastern provinces began a series of large-scale demonstrations last month to protest the president's plans to redistribute natural gas revenues to the poor. His opponents also are concerned about his plans to write a new constitution.

President Morales denounced Tuesday's violence as a "civic coup." He has also sent troops to guard energy installations in eastern Bolivia.