Bolivia opposition blocks streets in protest at government 'persecution'

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Bolivia's opposition blocked streets in the country's main cities on Monday in protest against the government of President Luis Arce, whom they accuse of "political persecution."

Police responded with tear gas to disperse crowds in the capital La Paz and in the city of Cochabama in central Bolivia.

A month after completing his first year in office, the leftist president faced his first protests, driven by opponents who accuse him persecuting political rivals.

They are demanding the release, among others, of former head of state Jeanine Anez, jailed on charges of leading a coup in 2019 to oust then-president Evo Morales.

The main demonstrations on Monday were centered in La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz in the east and Tarija in the south.

In La Paz, a large march was led by retail sector trade unions, which while not part of the opposition bloc, reject outright a new law under debate in parliament that would allow the government to investigate the assets of any citizen without a court order.

The bill would also force lawyers and journalists to reveal client information.

Constitutional lawyer William Bascope said that under the bill, the assets of all citizens are under suspicion, in contravention of the "presumption of innocence."

In the capital's center, police used tear gas to close off streets amid threats of clashes with pro-government groups. There were no reports of injuries.

In Cochabamba, police also fired tear gas and arrested at least two people. Santa Cruz, a stronghold of the right-wing opposition, was almost totally paralyzed by the protests.

Along with demanding the release of Anez, demonstrators called for the liberation of the mayors of La Paz, Cochabamba and the governor of Santa Cruz, as well as former presidents Carlos Mesa and Jorge Quiroga.

Opponents claim the ruling party accuses them of organizing a "coup" against Morales, an ally of Arce, which led him to resign amid social upheaval that left 37 dead.

The ruling party was preparing to stage its own marches in support of the president on Tuesday.

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