Bolivia lawmakers halt contested highway plans

AFP, La Paz — Bolivian lawmakers agreed Tuesday to postpone plans to build a highway through an Amazon nature preserve after months-long mass protests from indigenous people.

The Chamber of Deputies approved President Evo Morales's decision to halt the project in order to consult with the local population in the wake of police violence against the demonstrators for which he has apologized.

The Brazil-financed road was due to run through the Isiboro Secure reserve, home to some 50,000 natives from three different indigenous groups.

These isolated groups, from the humid lowlands, are not from the main indigenous groups that make up most of Bolivia's population, the highland Andean Aymara and Quechua peoples.

The lowland people fear their traditional lands may be overrun by landless highland farmers.

Protesters left the northern city of Trinidad in mid-August and are now about 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the capital La Paz, though facing high altitude and frigid conditions that have slowed their march.

Once they have reached their destination, the protesters will have marched some 600 kilometers (370 miles).

"We should be arriving next week, Tuesday or Wednesday," march leader Miguel Charupa told AFP.

"We are not particularly in a hurry to arrive in La Paz."

He said protesters now numbered about 2,000.

A counter-protest of about 1,000 government supporters was expected Wednesday in the capital.

Chamber of Deputies president Hector Arce said halting the road project in response to the Indians demands would open the way for an "informed dialogue" with the affected communities.

But protesters ignored the parliamentary vote, just as they have rejected the proposal from Morales. They demand that the project be canceled, not just postponed.

Work on the highway, which had been due to be operational in 2014, began in June, though not on the segment running through the reserve.

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