Riot police fire tear gas during clashes with miners in Panduro, La Paz department, Bolivia
La Paz (AFP) - Bolivian miners kidnapped, tortured and beat to death a deputy minister who tried to negotiate with protesting workers on Thursday, in what the government condemned as a brutal murder.
"All signs indicate that our deputy minister, Rodolfo Illanes, has been cowardly and brutally murdered," Interior Minister Carlos Romero told a press conference.
Illanes, who has served as deputy interior minister since March, had gone to a highway blockade in the western highland town of Panduro in an attempt to mediate with miners after days of violent protests.
"He was harassed, tortured... he was beaten to death according to the information we have," Defense Minister Reymi Ferreira said.
Illanes had earlier told local media by telephone that "I am in very good health... safeguarded by peers, so people do not hurt me."
But reports later came in that the 56-year-old former criminal lawyer was dead.
"We saw the lifeless body of Deputy Minister Illanes," Moises Flores, director of a mining radio station, told a local radio outlet.
- 'Deeply shaken' -
President Evo Morales was "deeply shaken" upon receiving the news, Ferreira said on private television station Red Uno, before breaking down in tears.
He said that authorities were attempting to recover the body, and in a separate statement reported that about 100 to 120 detentions had been made.
The ringleaders who killed Illanes had been identified, he said, adding that the act "cannot go unpunished, and must be taken to court."
Labeling the killing an "unprecedented criminal act," Romero as well called on Bolivia's justice system to "clear up the murder and establish responsibility."
Miner demonstrations turned violent this week with protestors demanding mining concessions and the right to work for private or foreign companies.
Romero said Illanes had been convinced that they "could be persuaded and urged into a dialogue with the government... but he was intercepted."
Bolivia's attorney general announced that five prosecutors had been sent to Panduro.
Illanes's bodyguard escaped the scene after being stripped of his gun, and had been admitted to a clinic in La Paz.
- Days of violence -
Two workers were shot dead Wednesday in mining protests on Cochabamba roads, according to prosecutors.
In clashes over the last three days, approximately 20 police have been injured and two remain captured by miners in the central city of Cochabamba, according to official data.
Bolivia's mining cooperatives are allied with the country's president, and hold positions in the executive and in Congress as senators and deputies.
Before the murder, miners had agreed with the government to start negotiating Friday morning at Bolivia's vice presidential headquarters, on condition they open up blocked roads.