Striking miners in Bolivia beat to death deputy minister who was trying to mediate

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Striking miners in Bolivia kidnapped and beat to death the country's deputy interior minister after he traveled to the area to mediate in a bitter conflict over mining laws.

Deputy Interior Minister Rodolfo Illanes, who had been held hostage by striking Bolivian miners, died late Thursday, a government official said.

Illanes had been taken prisoner by miners as he tried to persuade them to end roadblocks, and he had said earlier on Thursday that authorities need to establish a dialogue with the protesters.

The striking informal miners are demanding the right to associate with private companies, among other issues.

"I am being held by the comrades, I have not received any mistreatment," Illanes told a radio reporter hours earlier.

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"I am in very good health, let my family be reassured. I am sitting in a place guarded by the comrades so people don't harm me," he said.

Illanes spoke from Panduro, where he traveled early Thursday with hopes of convincing the miners to clear the roadblocks and enter talks with the government of President Evo Morales.

Instead, the miners took the deputy minister prisoner.

Government Minister Carlos Romero called it a "cowardly and brutal killing" and asked that the body be turned over to authorities.

Illanes, whose formal title is vice minister of the interior regime, was "savagely beaten" to death by the striking miners, Defense Minister Reymi Ferreira told Red Uno television, his voice breaking.

The fatal beating follows the killings of two protesters in clashes with police, deaths that likely escalated tensions in the strike.

Illanes had gone to Panduro, 80 miles south of La Paz, to open a dialogue with the striking miners, who have blockaded a highway there since Monday. Thousands of passengers and vehicles are stranded on roads blocked by the strikers.

Bolivia's informal or artisan miners number about 100,000 and work in self-managed cooperatives. They want to be able to associate with private companies, which is prohibited.

The government argues that if they associate with multinational companies they would cease to be cooperatives.

The National Federation of Mining Cooperatives of Bolivia, once strong allies of President Evo Morales, went on an indefinite protest after negotiations over the mining legislation failed.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press and EFE.

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