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Suicide bombing in Bolivian congress building

A suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest Tuesday in the Bolivian Congress, killing himself and two police officers, authorities said.
/ Source: The Associated Press

An angry miner with dynamite strapped to his chest blew himself up in Bolivia’s congress Tuesday, killing two police officers and wounding 10 other people, authorities said.

La Paz Police Chief Guido Arandia said the suicide bomber — whose demand for early retirement benefits underscored the grievances of many low-paid miners in Bolivia — stormed into congress around midday and went to a part of the building away from the congressional chambers.

The miner detonated his vest laced with at least five sticks of dynamite as congressional security police tried to negotiate.

Arandia said the man killed himself and fatally wounded Col. Marbel Flores, head of the congressional security police, and an officer who was not immediately identified. Col. Carlos Za, head of the country’s intelligence service, was critically injured.

Arandia said there was no doubt that the man had intentionally blown himself up.

Attack was expected
Police had evacuated congress earlier Tuesday after receiving reports that disgruntled miners planned to force their way into the building. Police had no immediate report on whether the bomber was acting alone or with others.

President Carlos Mesa called the miner a desperate man. “I want to tell the nation that what happened today is an absolutely isolated fact, not related to any situation that should cause concern,” Mesa said. “The nation should remain calm and assured that there is no political motivation in this.”

The bombing comes with thousands of Bolivian miners out of work. In recent years the government has opened the country’s vast reserves of gold and other mineral deposits to private mining companies.

In October, disgruntled miners joined with indigenous groups and labor organizations in leading days of violent protests against then-President Gonzalo Sanchez de Losada. Rioting sparked by the president’s unpopular plan to export natural gas killed at least 58 people.

A leader for the jobless miners, Miguel Zubieta, said the suicide at Congress was a consequence of the situation affecting thousands of unemployed miners and others who were not able to claim retirement benefits.

Mesa has worked to ease simmering social tensions among the majority poor in this country of 8.2 million people. But he continues to face pressure from the protest groups to turn around a slumping economy and narrow the gap between rich and poor.

Second blast investigated
An hour after the congressional blast, an explosion was heard in downtown La Paz, but there were no reports of injuries nor official word whether it was related.

Canal 7 showed videotape of shattered glass carpeting a side street leading to the ornate colonial legislative palace. Heavily armed police quickly cordoned off the complex in downtown La Paz and were seen dragging a body into a taxi that sped off.