Bolivia leader rules out troops as police rebel

LA PAZ Sun Jun 24, 2012 4:08pm EDT

1 of 7. A police officer in civilian clothing takes part in a riot in La Paz June 24, 2012. Some members of the police and their wives occupied police barracks and marched in their fourth day of protests against low wages according to local media.

Credit: Reuters/David Mercado

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LA PAZ (Reuters) - Bolivia's left-wing president, Evo Morales, accused political rivals of being behind a violent three-day uprising by police over wages on Sunday but said he would not deploy troops to restore order.

Dozens of officers have been hurt and several police stations destroyed during the protests in a fresh challenge to Morales, who has faced an upswing in social conflicts in the past year.

Rebel police invaded the downtown square in front of the presidential palace on Sunday, accusing their leaders of betraying them by signing a deal on pay and conditions with the government earlier in the day.

Some clashed with officers trying to return to their jobs, local media reported.

"The armed forces ... will not be sent onto the streets," Morales told peasant farmers and miners during a televised speech in the Andean highland town of Corocoro, warning that his supporters would defend the government "to the last."

"What are they after? ... the right-wingers want there to be deaths, but we're not going to play into their hands," said Morales, an ally of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, who has steadily tightened state control over natural resources and public services.

Morales vowed to avoid a repeat of a police protest in 2003 that was quashed by the military, causing dozens of deaths.

Morales often blames social protests on political rivals bent on destabilizing the natural gas-exporting South American country, which has a history of coups and violent social conflicts.

"We've got no doubt that there are conspiratorial intentions," said Government Minister Carlos Romero, confirming the rebellion continued among some sectors of the nation's police force in several cities.

"We've taken an important step, however, toward neutralizing this coup-mongering action," he said.

As part of the deal signed on Sunday, the government agreed that the wages of the country's roughly 32,000 police officers should be brought into line with other public-sector employees with a minimum monthly wage of nearly $300. It also includes improvement pension benefits.

No serious criminal incidents were reported despite the absence of police patrols.

(Writing by Helen Popper; Editing by Bill Trott)

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