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Dozens more tourists escape blockaded town of Potosi

3 min

Some 30 foreigners, including French nationals, managed on Tuesday to leave the Bolivian mountain city of Potosi, which has been paralysed for nearly two weeks by barricades blocking access to the city and a strike by locals.


AFP - Some 30 foreigners, including Japanese and Australians, on Tuesday fled this Bolivian mountain city paralysed by a two week-old general strike by locals demanding government action on a litany of complaints.

Miners set up roadblocks around the city on July 29 preventing tens of thousands people from leaving and stopping all vehicles from coming in. Vehicles attempting to run the blockade were attacked with stones.

The protesters are demanding that nearby mines in this city some 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) above the sea level be reopened. They also want the local airport expanded, a cement factory, and government action on ending a long-running boundary dispute with a neighboring province.

They claim socialist President Evo Morales' government has made plenty of promises, but has not delivered on them.

On Tuesday some 45 foreigners departed aboard two buses, but only one bus got past the roadblocks because they were taking Potosi regional governor Felix Gonzales and a team of strikers to the city of Sucre to negotiate with the government, French diplomat Frederic Laurent told AFP.

Most of the foreigners were French, Laurent said. There were also tourists from Spain, Israel and Argentina, though there is no official count.

Around 50 foreign tourists earlier left the hostage city on foot or aboard a plane chartered Saturday by a Bolivian tourist agency.

A helicopter Tuesday flew out a 22-year-old Frenchwoman who had recently had a heart transplant and lacked medicine, and two other French citizens, the French consul general in La Paz, Frederic Dore, told AFP.

Protesters had prevented an earlier helicopter flight sent to pick up the three and a Spanish man with health problems late Monday.

Potosi residents took advantage of an hours-long pause in the siege Tuesday to grab food being sold at greatly marked up prices by vendors uncertain when more supplies would be allowed through.

"We are stocking up for our families," said Celestino Condori, the head of the civic committee in the southeast city of 166,000 people. He and other organisers of the protest had called the brief suspension.

"There are lines everywhere. The prices have shot up," one resident, Janet Cruz, 36, told AFP.

In one bank, customers waited to withdraw cash. "There is a long line waiting to get money out," said one employee, Carlos Ramirez.

Demand was especially high to fill natural gas canisters, used for cooking.

"We have distributed 3,600 gas bottles. But the tanks are full of gas so no one's going to go without LPG (liquid petroleum gas)," a representative for the National Hydrocarbons Agency, Cristian Molina, said.


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