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Bolivian Military Denies Coup is in Works

Indigenous demonstrators raise their arms during protest, Wednesday
Bolivia's military commander denies the armed forces are plotting a coup following appeals by two high-ranking officers that President Carlos Mesa step down. There have been daily protests by thousands of Bolivians angered by Mr. Mesa's handling of Bolivia's lucrative gas industry.

The commander of the Bolivian military denies the armed forces are plotting a coup, despite appeals by two high-ranking officers for a military takeover.

Commander-in-Chief Luis Aranda condemned two lieutenant colonels for their nationally televised address calling for President Carlos Mesa to step down.

The call for Mesa's resignation comes amid daily protests by thousands of Bolivians demanding reform to Bolivia's gas industry. Demonstrators have clogged the streets of La Paz every day this week, blocking roads and clashing with police.

Last week Bolivian lawmakers approved a controversial bill drastically increasing taxes on foreign-owned oil and gas companies. Although opposed to it, Mr. Mesa allowed the bill to pass hoping it would appease protesters.

The bill adds a 32 percent tax to an 18 percent royalty foreign energy companies must already pay.

Protesters and the country's political opposition say the measure is still insufficient and that the only way poor Bolivians will reap the benefits of its lucrative natural resources is through total state control.

The head of the influential Movement Towards Socialism Party, Evo Morales, a leading proponent of gas nationalization, has called for a national debate on the issue and has threatened to escalate protests if the demand is not met.

Mr. Morales says the Movement Towards Socialism Party is seeking a meaningful transformation of Bolivia's economy.

Bolivia's gas issue has been a flashpoint for controversy and violence over the last few years, prompting everything from peaceful street demonstrations to full-scale riots that left dozens dead.

Worried about increased violence, President Mesa tendered his resignation in March, only to have Bolivia's congress reject it. He then called for early elections in August, two-years ahead of schedule.