POTOSI, Bolivia – Anti-government protesters who for nine days have sealed off Potosi have seized the city’s airfield, stranding scores of foreign tourists in the Bolivian Andes.
The action was the latest in a series of demonstrations by local residents, miners and peasants seeking the construction of a new cement factory, a larger airport and other actions from the government.
Alberto Encinas, a spokesman for the demonstrators, said the residents put stones around the airfield and some people with dynamite were surrounding the facility, keeping out anyone seeking to enter.
With the airport now paralyzed, all access into and out of Potosi has been cut off since protesters on Sunday blocked the area’s main highways with boulders, isolating the city’s 160,000 inhabitants.
The airport takeover came in conjunction with a large street demonstration that paralyzed the picturesque city, which at more than 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) is among the highest in the world.
“It is a protest march that was planned and received a massive presence of people,” union leader Celestino Condori said.
Friday’s actions kept small aircraft grounded along with tourists from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland, who were unable to leave.
“I have two children and another person suffering asthma,” Frenchman Pascal Gujot told AFP. “We went to the Red Cross. They gave us some oxygen and recommended that we get to lower altitudes as quickly as possible. But we can’t get out” of the city.
“There’s no police, no army. It’s total anarchy,” he added.
Some tourists tried to leave by bus but were stopped at a roadblock.
“Things turned ugly. They threatened us with dynamite and the driver didn’t want to force his hand,” said Frenchman Romain Le Du.
He said some tourists were frantic “to keep deadlines, while others, younger people, were taking it in their stride.”
The protests have been ongoing since July 29 with workers and residents calling for more investment in the community from the government of President Evo Morales.