Latin America & Caribbean

Bolivian police protests turn violent and spread

Police officer in La Paz protest
Image caption Police officers burn documents and furniture from a sacked building in La Paz

Protests by police officers demanding a pay rise have spread through Bolivia.

In the South American country's main city, La Paz, officers demanding a pay rise ransacked and set fire to a police building near the presidential palace.

Thousands have joined the protests in other cities, occupying barracks.

President Evo Morales cut short a visit to Brazil, where he was attending the UN sustainable development summit in Rio de Janeiro, to deal with the crisis.

The violence began on Thursday, when dozens of police and their wives seized control of an elite police unit and expelled their superiors.

Many shouted slogans against Bolivia's left-wing President Evo Morales.

Other officers joined the protest on Friday in major Bolivian cities such as Santa Cruz, Cochabamba and Oruro.

Police officers, who earn on average between $150 (£96) and $200 (£128) per month, are demanding salaries on par with soldiers of the same rank.

They rejected the government offer of a 7% pay increase this year.

Interior Minister Carlos Romero is quoted by the Efe news agency as saying that Mr Morales is willing to meet the protest leaders and accept their demands.

Mr Romero made an appeal for police officers to stop any violent form of protest and work together for a solution.

Evo Morales was reelected in 2005 Bolivia's first indigenous leader.

He was reelected five years later, but his support has declined recently, after a number of protests over low salaries and the rising cost of living.

His reputation was also tarnished when the government announced plans to build a highway through an indigenous area in the Amazon forest in 2011.

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