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Bolivians burn alive mayor accused of corruption

Bolivian Indians burned to death a mayor they accused of corruption.
LA PAZ, Bolivia, June 15 (Reuters) - Bolivian Indians on Tuesday burned to death a mayor they accused of corruption and dragged his body through the streets in an attack heightening tensions in a nation beset by anti-government protests.

Government officials said residents kidnapped Benjamin Altamirano in La Paz on Monday night and drove him overnight to his home in Ayo Ayo, a town of about 7,000 people 56 miles (90 km) from the capital.

Officials said he was then burned to death inside his house, with his body later dragged through the streets and dumped in the town square. Witnesses said he was tied up, set aflame in the town square and hung upside down from a lamppost.

Provincial Gov. Nicolas Quenta said: "We will not allow a criminal act such as this. The guilty will be punished according to the law."

Bolivia is engulfed in its biggest anti-government protests since a bloody Indian uprising last year ousted an elected president. Indian leaders say President Carlos Mesa has failed to live up to promises to help the poor, indigenous majority.

Street protests have turned increasingly violent this month. A soldier and a protesting farmer were shot to death in a jungle ambush after the army broke up a road blockade by farmers.

But demonstrations have so far been smaller and less widespread than the nationwide uprising last October that killed dozens and forced the resignation of Mesa's predecessor, President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada.

Indigenous groups have opposed government plans to export natural gas and cut spending, reflecting a growing perception across Andean nations that a decade of free-market reforms has done little to help millions of peasants.

In neighboring Peru, which shares a common Indian heritage with Bolivia, a mayor was also lynched by Indians this year and thousands of farmers and workers have marched to demand better work conditions and to protest against President Alejandro Toledo.