Bolivia’s left wing president Evo Morales was forced to apologise on Wednesday after police attacked an indigenous people’s march.
The protesters oppose the construction of a major highway through the TIPNIS Amazon rainforest reserve.
Some 1,500 protesters on a 300-mile march to the capital La Paz were ambushed by hundreds of police with teargas on Sunday.
Police carted marchers off in coaches aiming to fly them home and disperse the protest. This was thwarted when local people shut down two airports to free the marchers.
Defence minister Cecilia Chacon resigned in protest. Tens of thousands brought traffic to a standstill in La Paz on Wednesday as part of a day of action backed by Bolivia’s main trade union federation.
Thousands marched from the suburb of El Alto, chanting “Evo is a lackey of Brazilian companies”. Brazilian company OAS has been hired to build the road, and most of the funding comes from the Brazilian development bank.
Interior minister Sasha Llorenti and his deputy have now been forced to resign, and the government has promised a full investigation.
After initially denouncing the marchers, Morales has announced that he will suspend construction of the highway pending a referendum.
Morales is the first president to be elected from Bolivia’s indigenous majority and has campaigned over the environment.
But the pressure to develop the Bolivian economy has brought Morales into conflict with the social movements that helped elect him.