Bolivia's deputy interior minister killed after being kidnapped by striking miners: Ministry

Independent miners block a main highway during a protest against Bolivia's President Evo Morales' government policies, in Panduro south of La Paz, Bolivia on Aug 25, 2016.
Independent miners block a main highway during a protest against Bolivia's President Evo Morales' government policies, in Panduro south of La Paz, Bolivia on Aug 25, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS
Riot policemen shoot tear gas during clashes with miners in Panduro, La Paz department, Bolivia on Aug 25, 2016.
Riot policemen shoot tear gas during clashes with miners in Panduro, La Paz department, Bolivia on Aug 25, 2016. PHOTO: AFP
A view of blocked main highway by independent miners protesting against Bolivia's President Evo Morales' government policies, in Panduro south of La Paz, Bolivia, Aug 25, 2016.
A view of blocked main highway by independent miners protesting against Bolivia's President Evo Morales' government policies, in Panduro south of La Paz, Bolivia, Aug 25, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

LA PAZ (Reuters/AFP) - Bolivian Deputy Interior Minister Rodolfo Illanes has been killed after being kidnapped by striking mineworkers, the government said late on Thursday (Aug 25).

"At this present time, all the indications are that our deputy minister Rodolfo Illanes has been brutally and cowardly assassinated," Minister of Government Carlos Romero said in broadcast comments. He said Mr Illanes had gone to talk to protesters earlier on Thursday in Panduro, around 160km from the capital, La Paz, but was intercepted and kidnapped by striking miners.

The government was trying to recover his body, Mr Romero said.

Local media reported on Thursday that Illanes had been beaten to death, citing a radio station director who said he saw his body.

"We have been able to see close up that vice-minister Illanes was dead. Colleagues told us that he had died of a beating," Mr Moises Flores, the director of a mining radio station, told local radio.

Protests by miners in Bolivia demanding changes to laws turned violent this week after a highway was blockaded. Two workers were killed on Wednesday after being shot by police, and the government said 17 police officers had been wounded.

The National Federation of Mining Cooperatives of Bolivia (FENCOMIN), once strong allies of leftist President Evo Morales, began what they said would be an indefinite protest after negotiations over mining legislation failed.

Protesters have been demanding more mining concessions, the right to work for private companies, and greater union representation.

The vast majority of miners in Bolivia, one of South America's poorest countries, work in cooperatives, scraping a living producing silver, tin and zinc.

There are few foreign-owned mining firms, unlike in neighboring Peru and Chile. Natural gas accounts for roughly half of Bolivia's total exports.

Mr Morales, a former coca grower, nationalised Bolivia's resources sector after taking power in 2006, initially winning plaudits for ploughing the profits into welfare programs and boosting development.

However, his government has been dogged by accusations of cronyism and authoritarianism in recent years, and even the unions who were once his core support have soured on him as falling prices have crimped spending.