"Universitarios" battle soldiers,
sieze key government buildings
Fighting raged through the center of Santa Cruz Tuesday as youths battled against soldiers in the central plaza and adjoining streets while tear gas fumes filled the air. An estimated 50 persons were hurt.
The youths described as university students by the media smashed their way into the offices of the central government's tax, land reform, and migration offices. They also broke into and trashed the offices of Entel, a cell phone and long distance communications company recently nationalized by the government.
During Tuesday afternoon, large contingents of soldiers hunkered down behind concrete barriers in the central plaza, or behind riot shields in strategic corners, and fired tear gas grenades at the crowds of milling youths.
Some of the youths may have been members of the Union Juvenile Cruceñista, which has functioned as a sort of ad hoc militia for the self-proclaimed autonomous government of Santa Cruz.
Similar youth unions are serving a similar function in the other provinces that have declared themselves autonomous via referenda -- Tarija, Pando and Beni.
An echelon of handicapped persons, who have been demonstrating to demand promised benefits from the national government, was also involed in the fighting on the side of the autonomista forces.
The youths advanced on the soldiers behind dumpsters that they pushed across the plaza, and by nightfall the soldiers had withdrawn or fled, and were nowhere in evidence Wednesday.
Nor were any of the national police to be seen, though the unarmed Santa Cruz constabulary force was out on the streets.
The streets where the government offices and Entel showroom had been taken were cordoned off. A trash fire in front of the offices of the tax authority was still smoking.
The national government was calling for the arrest of the government and civic leaders in Santa Cruz, while those leaders were proclaiming the protests were the "response of the people" to the allegedly dictatorial actions of the government.
TV news reported that campesinos favoring the national government of President Evo Morales were seeking to surround the city with blockades, and that tensions were particularly high inside a market on the west side of the city that in the past has been the scene of clashes between pro-Morales and pro-autonomia factions. Some schools in the area of the market suspended classes and sent their students home.
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