Sept 21 - Clashes break out between indigenous groups and police ahead of their arrival into the Bolivia capital La Paz, to protest a plan to construct a highway through their protected indigenous land. Marie-Claire Fennessy reports.
Police clashed with indigenous Bolivians as they marched to the capital on Monday. They are protesting against a government plan to build a highway though protected indigenous land. Their arrival into the capital, La Paz, marked the end of the long 370 mile march, which began on August 15th. Gathering in San Francis church square, one indigenous leader said they wanted to send a message to President Evo Morales. (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) INDIGENOUS ALYAS LEADER, VILMA MACHACA SAYING: "The purpose of this march is no other than to reach La Paz (Bolivia capital) although president Morales and his vice president Garcia Linera want us to retreat. Let me point out that our indigenous brothers are not cattle. They are nothing like the crab who walks backwards. We are people with feelings too." The government said the planned highway will further infrastructure investment in the impoverished state. The 420 million dollar road will link the Amazon plains of Beni to Chapare. Environmental activists said the road will encourage illegal settlement and deforestation in the region. Bolivia's vice president outlined the benefits of the project. (SOUNDBITE) BOLIVIAN VICE PRESIDENT, ALVARO GARCIA LINERA SAYING: "These are their demands. They (referring to the indigenous people) want to stop the project in the Aguarague region when this can produce petroleum and gas, now when in fact, already 80 percent of the gas and petroleum produced in Bolivia crosses the region." Criticism against the president has mounted since the planned road was announced. It is yet to be seen if the government will take heed of the protesters. In June, Morales angered activists by saying the road would be built "whether they like it or not. Marie-Claire Fennessy, Reuters