The “massacre” of peasants in the rebellious province of Pando justified the imposition of martial law, Bolivian President Evo Morales said Saturday.
At least 16 people were killed in fighting in Pando Thursday, and two more died Friday at a provincial airfield when government soldiers opened fire on anti-government protesters.
Most of the 16 killed Thursday were peasant supporters of Morales. “These people were massacred,” the president told reporters on Saturday.
Separatists in Pando and three other provinces in eastern Bolivia have occupied government offices, airfields and natural gas facilities to protest the government’s plans for a Dec. 7 referendum on a new constitution, which would give Morales more power and transfer property to landless peasants.
Morales, the country’s first indigenous president, is trying to improve the lot of the poor indigenous population, but has run into opposition in the richer eastern provinces.
Morales said he would extend the martial law order to the other three provinces, if necessary.