Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bolivia Readies Charges Against Autonomy Leader

LA PAZ (Reuters) - Bolivia's leftist government said on Sunday it was preparing to charge a top leader of an autonomy movement with "terrorism" after violent protests in September.

The government of President Evo Morales said Branko Marinkovic, who helped lead an autonomy push by Bolivia's four richest provinces, would be charged for instigating attacks in which at least 17 people were killed.

"We have enough evidence in this investigation to allow us to link Mr. Marinkovic with the acts of terrorism that occurred in several parts of the country in September," government minister Alfredo Rada told state radio.

Twenty people, including a governor and another civic leader, are already behind bars for the violence that erupted in four opposition-controlled regions when anti-Morales protesters stormed government buildings, sabotaged natural gas pipelines and battled with the president's supporters.

Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president, boosted his political standing through his handling of the crisis while his opponents, including wealthy landowner Marinkovic, emerged weakened.

Marinkovic, behind the autonomy movement in resource-rich Santa Cruz, did not comment on the government case. His supporters say he is a victim of political persecution.

Rada said Marinkovic's possible arrest would depend on the justice system.

"What Mr. Marinkovic has to do is prepare his defense and not try to run," he said.

Marinkovic and Santa Cruz governor Ruben Costas led the so-called Half Moon group of eastern provinces, also including Tarija, Beni and Pando, seeking autonomy from the government so that they could have more control of vast oil, gas and agricultural resources.

Bolivia is South America's poorest country and has a long history of political instability.

Morales came to power as a champion of landless Indians and promptly nationalized the energy industry to return resource wealth to the people.

(Editing by Alan Elsner)

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