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Bolivia military backtracks on sackings over protests

Members of the Armed Forces of Bolivia demonstrate in La Paz, after marching from El Alto in demand of reforms in the military on April 29, 2014
Members of the Armed Forces of Bolivia demonstrate in La Paz, after marching from El Alto in demand of reforms in the military on April 29, 2014

Bolivia's military command moved Saturday to try to defuse unrest in the ranks, announcing it would not go ahead with the planned firing of more than 400 non-commissioned officers.

The announcement by the chief of the armed forces, which followed a night of violent protests in La Paz, did not account for all 700 non-commissioned officers ordered fired after protests last month, triggering a threat of further unrest.

"We are going to radicalize our protests next week," said Sandra Lopez, the leader of an association of wives of non-commissioned officers, without providing details.

During violent clashes late Friday, relatives of the non-commissioned officers tried to storm barracks in downtown La Paz that house the headquarters of the armed forces chief, General Victor Baldivieso.

Military police fired tear gas to disperse the protesters, and at least two women fell to the ground overcome by fumes.

The trouble erupted April 22 when hundreds of sergeants marched in uniform through the center of La Paz to protest the sacking of four fellow non-commissioned officers and alleged racial discrimination by the high command.

The military responded by firing more than 700 non-commissioned officers, but failed to quell the protests.

The armed forces commander said in a statement that the military courts had decided to "leave without effect" the sackings of 430 of the troops.

The enlisted ranks of Bolivia's 38,000-strong military are filled mainly with indigenous Aymara and Quechua people, while the upper echelons comprise mainly mixed-race officers of partly European descent.

The non-commissioned officers complain that their advancement to ranks above sergeant are blocked because of racial discrimination, and are demanding reforms.