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  • The government says thousands of miners are "heavily armed" and blocking different roads around the country.

    The government says thousands of miners are "heavily armed" and blocking different roads around the country. | Photo: Fernando Cartagena/La Razon

Some 5,200 miners have set up blockades in protest over changes to a mining law.

The Bolivian government has condemned the actions of more than 5,000 striking cooperative miners, accusing them of committing "serious crimes."

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The government says thousands of miners are "heavily armed" and blocking different roads around the country. Government Minister Carlos Romero said the most serious incident took place in the town of Mantecani, near La Paz, on Wednesday when protesters captured and beat several police officers.

An ambulance that was transferring an injured officer was also prevented from leaving the scene.

"These people have engaged in the destruction of public property, damaged police cars, and have stolen the police officers personal belongings," said Carlos Romero at a press conference in La Paz. "This is shameful, there’s been abductions and we've had people kidnapped."

After a tense standoff, authorities agreed to free 50 miners in exchange for the release of 70 police officers who were wounded during the Mantecani blockade.

Eleven routes from La Paz to Oruro and Cochabamba remain sealed off by miners in a dispute over a change to Law 356 which they claim weakens their rights. The vice president of the National Federation of Mining Cooperatives Federico Escobar asked the government to hold immediate talks with representatives to resolve their demands.

Escobar said the miners would hold the government "responsible for what happens if there is no intervention."

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Escobar is heading up a protest in Mantecani, 70 kilometers from La Paz, where 4,000 miners have blocked the main road to La Paz. More than a thousand vehicles have been left stranded since the protest started on Wednesday morning.

The miners are refusing to lift their blockades until the government agrees to dialogue. Bolivia’s Mining Minister Cesar Navarro reiterated the readiness of the Bolivian government to start talks but called on the miners to be "clear" and "honest" in their demands.

The president of the National Confederation of Cooperatives of Bolivia, Albino García, says the miners reject the recently enacted law on co-operatives which limits their powers in the sector.

The government says deals between the mining co-operatives and private sector companies is not allowed under the constitution and claimed the real objective of the protest is "blackmail" over changes to the law.

Bolivia's public prosecutor has opened an investigation into the ongoing protests to identify those responsible for breaching the law

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