LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — President Carlos Mesa offered to resign here June 6, seeking to quell weeks of anti-government protests that have paralyzed parts of the country.

The offer came as tens of thousands of Indians, miners, trade unionists and farmers protested in downtown La Paz in their largest anti-government march in weeks.

“This is as far as I can go,” Mesa said in a nationally televised address. “It is my decision as president to present my resignation.” This is the second time this year he has offered to step down because of street protests.

Protesters have been calling for Mesa’s resignation and demanding early elections. They have demanded the nationalization of the country’s energy industry and a constitutional assembly to write a new constitution giving stronger representation to the indigenous population, which makes up about half the populace.

Riot police fired volleys of tear gas canisters and fought sporadic battles against rock-throwing protesters on the fringes of the June 6 demonstration in La Paz.

Mesa offered to resign in March amid similar protests in a political gamble. Lawmakers rejected the offer then, giving Mesa crucial support after he said the country was becoming ungovernable. At press time it remained uncertain whether lawmakers would accept his resignation this time.

The current raucous but largely peaceful demonstrations have raised tensions in this impoverished Andean nation of 9 million people, marking the fourth week of a swelling crisis that has seen protesters erect road blockades that have strangled the capital and triggered gas and food shortages.

The crisis pits Indian and labor groups from the poorer eastern highlands, including La Paz and its poor satellite city of El Alto, against ruling blocks from Santa Cruz in the east and the oil-rich gas fields to the south that are pursuing greater autonomy.

The protests have steadily increased after Bolivia’s Congress moved last month to increase taxes on foreign oil corporations that have flocked to the country to develop its natural gas reserves — the second largest in South America after Venezuela.

The measure by lawmakers was intended to calm tensions in a country where anti-globalization anger runs high.

One demonstrating teacher, Max Mendoza, said the government has for too long ignored popular demands. “In what country will you find starting teachers making only $60 a month?” he asked.

Bolivian Communists speak out

The Communist Party of Bolivia said June 2 that the country’s political crisis stems from past and present neoliberal governments turning over the nation’s natural resources to the rich oligarchy and U.S. imperialism at the expense of the people.

The party warned that the current situation poses grave dangers, with the possibility of a right-wing coup or outside military intervention. It said calls for revolution, for which the country is not ready, play into the hands of the right.

The party called for new elections for president, vice-president, senators and delegates, adding that a new, more representative parliament would lay the basis for further advances.

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