Striking miners in Bolivia kidnapped and beat to death the country's deputy interior minister after he traveled to the area to mediate in the bitter conflict over mining laws, officials say. Government Minister Carlos Romero called it a "cowardly and brutal killing" and asked that the body of deputy minister Rodolfo Illanes be turned over to authorities, the AP reports. 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.