Bolivian policemen on strike march in La Paz
Police in Bolivia vowed Sunday to press on with a four day old mutiny, spurning a pay deal struck by the government and union leaders, as President Evo Morales accused the opposition of plotting a coup.
Since Thursday, low-ranking officers in this impoverished Latin American country have rioted to demand an increase in salary. Authorities, meanwhile, accuse them of stockpiling weapons and pressuring other units to turn over their arms in an attempt to overthrow the leftist government.
On Sunday, Morales alleged that those on strike, in partnership with the opposition, had plans to kill Interior Minister Carlos Romero and attack the military with Molotov cocktails.
"The right wants there to be a death," Morales told supporters in a mining town south of the capital La Paz. "Everyone is going to defend this (political) process, we are part of this process and we will defend (it) to the bitter end."
Morales' remarks came after Romero announced at dawn that the government had signed a deal on new salary terms and that officers had agreed to end their mutiny in key cities.
"Our dialogue with the police has ended and we were able to reach sound agreements in order to overcome this police crisis that has taken place in recent days," Romero told a press conference.
"I want to say to our colleagues that we must restore (law enforcement) services, with the commitment that we must provide quality service and professionalism," said police sergeant Edgar Ramos, a union representative.
But within hours any such agreement appeared to be falling apart.
"We reject the deal and we are carrying on with the mutiny," a unidentified officer told a public meeting of police in La Paz, before a march by some 300 police past the gates of the heavily-guarded presidential palace. It was not clear if Morales was in the palace at the time.
"Police mutiny! Police mutiny!" they chanted. Officials and employees found in police stations across the capital were being turfed out by strike supporters, accused of not joining the movement.
Police in other major cities like Potosi, Cochabamba and Beni had also rejected the deal, which would have seen pay packages boosted by 220 bolivianos (32 dollars) a month, Catholic radio Fides reported. Only in Santa Cruz to the east had police decided to suspend their protest, according to the broadcaster.
Refusing to budge from their demand for a minimum pay hike to 2,000 bolivianos ($287), from the current average of $195 a month, police in the capital denounced union leaders for caving in to the government.
"The leaders are traitors, they are sell-outs to the government," one uniformed officer shouted, refusing to be identified because he said he feared government repression. Many of the mutineers wore hoods and carried sticks and stones.
Among their targets is Guadelupe Cardenas, who heads a group of wives who have been supporting their husbands.
Visibly nervous, she told AFP that she was "forced to sign" the deal and had been blackmailed "with my son," a student at a police academy.
Meanwhile, the national police chief -- whom protesters are calling on to resign -- ordered all officers to take up their regular duties in accordance with the deal.
"The General Command orders all of the national police units to restore the services we provide to citizens," Colonel Victor Maldonado told reporters.
The protester's demands also include full pay upon retirement, a police ombudsman, and the overturning of a law that bans them from publicly expressing their opinions.
Police sergeant Javier Quispe, a spokesman for the strikers, denied any plans for a coup, calling it a "total lie."
"We want to tell the public it's not like that. This is a just demand for a fair salary," Quispe said.
Meanwhile, troops that Defense Minister Ruben Saavedra had deployed onto the streets to protect private property and ensure public order returned to their barracks Sunday.
The mutiny began Thursday when protesters took over the headquarters of the country's riot police and eight other police stations. It then spread to more than two dozen police stations and command centers across the country.
On Friday, a crowd of some 300 striking police, dressed in civilian clothes and covering their faces, attacked the National Intelligence Directorate, smashing windows, pulling out furniture, documents and computers, and even setting flags on fire.
Roughly 300 protesters later hurled rocks and smashed windows at national police headquarters. Police on duty outside the building offered no resistance.