Dakar racers caught up La Paz street protests

Bolivian President Evo Morales gives the departure signal to Walter Nosiglia of Bolivia on his Honda in Bolivia. Photo: Reuters

LA PAZ, Bolivia - The Dakar Rally reached the lung-busting altitude of La Paz on Friday and was quickly caught up in violent street battles being fought between protesters and police in the tense Bolivian capital.

Around 100 demonstrators clashed with police who used tear gas and pepper spray to quell the trouble which spread to a road being used by the competitors.

"We want hospitals, not the Dakar," chanted protesters, aiming their frustrations at President Evo Morales, who has been in power since 2006 and hopes to stay there until 2025.

Empty water bottles and chairs were thrown in the direction of the main official Dakar vehicle which led the competitors into La Paz.

The first motorcycle riders were also jeered by protesters.

Despite the trouble, Morales welcomed the arrival of the two-week Dakar event, which stretches from Peru, into Bolivia and ends in Argentina, in his country.

"We are proud to participate in this event, which can integrate us into the world, promote sport and attract tourists," he tweeted.

Hundreds of Bolivians appeared to agree with Morales as they cheered the riders and drivers, shrugging off the violence under the watchful eye of the armed forces.

In the event itself, French motorcyclist Antoine Meo, on a KTM, won the sixth stage after a 760km run from Arequipa in Peru to La Paz.

Argentina's Kevin Benavides, on a Honda, was second, 30 seconds behind, but went to the top of overall standings. Australia's Toby Price was third on the stage.

Benavides has a 1min 57sec lead over French Yamaha rider Adrien Van Beveren in the overall standings.

Friday is a rest day in La Paz.


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