Authorities have arrested more than 40 protesting miners in Bolivia after a minister was beaten to death. President Evo Morales has called for three days of mourning and blamed the protests on a 'political conspiracy.'
Bolivia's attorney general, Ramiro Guerrero, confirmed that Deputy Interior Minister Rodolfo Illanes died after being beaten numerous times by his kidnappers.
Authorities said more than 40 demonstrating miners were arrested on Friday.
Five of those detained have been accused of direct involvement in the death of the 55-year-old minister. They include Carlos Mamani, the chairman of the national federation of mining cooperatives (Fencomin).
Illanes was kidnapped by striking miners during a visit to the town of Panduro, about 160 km (100 miles) outside of the capital of La Paz on Thursday. He had traveled to the area in order to initiate talks with miners at a roadblock.
The minister's bodyguard also suffered a head injury and was hospitalized.
On Friday, protesters lifted the roadblock where the senior minister was kidnapped.
Bolivian President Evo Morales called for three days of national mourning following Illanes' death. He condemned the "cowardly attitude" of the protesters and said his government had "always been open" to negotiations with the strikers.
"This is a political conspiracy, not a social demand," Morales said during a press conference, accusing political opponents of supporting the miners' cause.
The opposition denied the president's claim, saying the protests stem from an economic crisis fueled by falling mineral and metal prices.
"Morales would do well to be critical of himself and set aside false conspiracy theories blaming the right wing and the media," said former President Jorge Quiroga, "when the undercurrent of these protests is the crisis."
Tensions over union law
After weeks of financial tensions, miners blocked the highway into the town of Panduro on Monday to protest a law which would allow cooperative members to join trade unions.
Independent cooperatives represent the protesters, who reject the influence of unions and want foreign companies to be able to invest in the cooperatives.
Fencomin, whose chairman was arrested over Illanes' murder, represents around 10,000 miners from 900 cooperatives. They have also made a slew of demands to help them overcome the economic crisis - including looser environmental laws.
Although the South American nation is still on track to outperform its neighbors in GDP growth, Bolivia has been hit hard by financial slowdowns and falling prices in minerals and natural gas.
rs/jm (AP, dpa)