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US Urges Bolivians to Support Constitutional Order - 2003-10-14


The United States is urging Bolivians to support constitutional order and reject confrontation that could lead to more political violence in that country. The appeal followed violent protests against the government of President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada Monday that killed at least 14 people.

The United States is making clear its support for the elected administration of Mr. Sanchez de Lozada in the face of increasingly-violent anti-government protests and demands for the resignation of the president, who began a five-year term in office only 14 months ago.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States is "deeply concerned" about events in Bolivia, where anti-government protests underway for several weeks escalated markedly on Sunday and Monday.

"These events are undermining constitutional order and democratic values and have led to a tragic loss of life," he said. "We repeat our call on Bolivians to reject confrontation that could lead to more violence. Respect for constitutional guarantees and the rule of law are fundamental to democracy in government."

Mr. Boucher said the United States fully supports a resolution late Monday by the Organization of American States appealing to all political and social sectors in Bolivia to help guarantee the stability of the country through dialogue and negotiation.

The measure, approved unanimously by the OAS Permanent Council, also categorically rejected any action designed to disrupt Bolivia's democratic system.

In a written statement Monday, the State Department said the United States and the rest of the international community "will not tolerate" any interruption in constitutional order in Bolivia and will not support any regime that results from undemocratic means.

Bolivia, once considered one of Latin America's most politically-unstable countries, has had civilian governments since 1982 after nearly two decades of military regimes.

President Sanchez de Lozada , a U.S.-educated businessman and free market advocate, was confirmed in office by the Bolivian congress last August after winning less than a quarter of the overall vote in a multi-candidate election.

Anti-government protests by labor unions and groups representing the country's indigenous population began in mid-September and escalated in recent days with demonstrations against a government plan to export natural gas to the United States and Mexico via Chile.

The president Monday agreed to postpone the gas-export plan but has refused to step down and says his government will defeat the protesters.