Latin America & Caribbean

Bolivia bans cars for 'Day of the Pedestrian'

Cars and buses were taken off the streets of Bolivia as the country held its first "National Day of the Pedestrian".

All motorised vehicles, including public transport, were banned in cities across the country on Sunday.

Bolivia's government says it wants to raise awareness about the environment.

It comes at a time when President Evo Morales' government is facing criticism over plans to build a highway through the Amazon rainforest.

The recent protests against the highway have been an embarrassment for Mr Morales, who is a prominent advocate of indigenous rights and the protection of "Mother Earth".

Two million cars

Two million cars were taken off the streets on Sunday in nine cities, according to officials cited by Reuters news agency.

In Bolivia's main city, La Paz, the BBC's Mattia Cabitza was engulfed by a sea of young people taking part in a marathon, and the usually congested streets were instead occupied by street artists and other performers.

Image caption Bolivian President Evo Morales (second left) jogs with his bodyguards to show his support

Exercise instructors taught tai-chi to passers-by while some Bolivians were seen dressed up as zebras, playing hopscotch in the road, Reuters reports.

President Evo Morales, an avid sportsman, was up early, jogging, and joked that his vice-president could not keep up with him.

"Children and young people should take over the streets to do sports. But I'm sorry that our vice-president was left behind," he said.

Mr Morales has faced resistance over plans to build a highway through the Amazon.

The government says the route will promote much needed development, and says it will take measures to protect the rainforest.

Activists say the construction of a road through the Isiboro-Secure National Park, a rainforest reserve, will encourage illegal settlement and deforestation.

The Bolivian Vice-President, Alvaro Garcia Linera, said the government wanted to achieve a balance between development and conservation.

"Here is an unwavering commitment to protect the environment. We have 17m hectares, that is an area bigger than Belgium, that are reserves.

"We strive to protect Mother Nature but we also want to create mechanisms for the integration of people. This is the balance we seek," he said.

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