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Activists force Bolivia minister into protest march
CHACARINA, Bolivia, Sept 24 (AFP) Sep 24, 2011
Indigenous protesters in Bolivia's Amazon basin region forced a cabinet minister to join a march Saturday and break through a police blockade separating them from their northeastern rivals.

Minority indigenous people from the poor South American country's steamy lowlands are angered by construction of a highway they fear will bring migrants into the Amazon jungle region.

They forced Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca to march with them past riot officers into an area where rival Andean highland indigenous people had settled.

"They made me march. They made me do it," the country's top diplomat, visibly tired, told local media.

Protest leader Adolfo Chavez told local radio that native women were clutching Choquehuanca's arms and had forced him to join the march.

The protesters headed toward Yucumo, 10 kilometers (six miles) from the blockade near Chacarina -- another town 323 kilometers (200 miles) northeast of the capital La Paz -- where highland indigenous people who support Morales have settled.

Bolivia is South America's only mostly indigenous nation. Socialist President Evo Morales is an indigenous leader himself, and favors the road project.

Choquehuanca had been attempting to mediate between the groups, which he has said could engage in ethnic slaughter on the scale of Rwanda's bloody 1994 genocide between Hutus and Tutsis.

In a tussle with the demonstrators, police Colonel Alex Machaca was wounded in the lip by an arrow and was rushed out in an ambulance, a senior government official said.

The planned highway would run through an Amazon forest natural reserve where natives have lived largely in isolation for centuries.

Amazon natives fear that landless Andean Quechua and Aymara people -- Bolivia's main indigenous groups -- will flood into the area and colonize the region.

Simeon Jaliri, a leader of the confederation of farm workers representing Quechua and Aymara people -- said they had declared a state of emergency after what happened to Choquehuanca.

"We are prepared to mobilize," he warned.

Protesters said the demonstrators were carrying spears and arrows to hunt for food during their protest march -- which they say will take them to La Paz -- and to protect the demonstrators.

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