efe-epaLa Paz

Bolivian police used tear gas here Thursday to break up a procession of thousands of people carrying the coffins of the eight activists who died in an encounter with security forces earlier this week in the neighboring city of El Alto.

The march from El Alto reached the center of La Paz just before 2.30 pm and participants had paused on the edge of Plaza San Francisco square when police launched tear gas canisters, sending people scurrying down side streets to escape.

Simultaneously, motorcycle-mounted riot cops plowed into the multitude, made up overwhelmingly of members of Bolivia's indigenous majority.

The police treated the marchers "like dogs," one participant told Efe, while a woman cried out: "they have killed us, and now we are gassed."

Some of the coffins were set down on the pavement as protesters sought help for marchers overcome by the gas.

The eight civilians who perished when police and troops moved to evict protesters from a natural gas plant in El Alto on Tuesday all died of gunshot wounds, the Ombudsman's Office said.

The self-proclaimed interim government that took power in Bolivia after the armed forces pressured President Evo Morales into resigning on Nov. 10 insists that security forces did not fire the deadly shots, but has provided no alternative explanation.

Police and troops stormed the gas facility in El Alto's Senkata district to enable the resumption of fuel deliveries to La Paz.

The plant had been occupied for days by supporters of Morales' leftist MAS party as part of the resistance to the provisional administration led by right-wing Sen. Jeanine Añez.

The eight fatalities Tuesday in El Alto bring the confirmed death toll from unrest following the Oct. 20 elections to 32, while more than 700 others have been injured.

The vast majority of the fatalities - 29 - have occurred since Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president, was forced out of office and have come as security forces repressed protests against his ouster.

Bolivians went to the polls on Oct. 20. In a statement issued the day after the election, the Electoral Observation Mission from the Organization of American States (OAS) said that incumbent Morales and former head of state Carlos Mesa had appeared to be headed for a runoff before an "inexplicable change" in the trend of the vote count occurred.

Morales, who took office in 2006, maintains that his late surge in the balloting came after votes from remote rural areas were counted.

He agreed to an OAS audit of the votes against a backdrop of violent protests.

The OAS released its findings Nov. 10, saying that there had been a "clear manipulation" of the process and calling for a new election to be held.

Morales responded to the OAS statement by immediately agreeing to a new vote administered by a reconstituted electoral court. Even so, the armed forces commanders appeared on television to "suggest" that the president step down.

Under pressure from the security forces and amid a wave of mob violence that included an arson attack on the home of the president's sister and the abduction of family members of MAS officeholders, Morales announced his resignation on the afternoon of Nov. 10 in a video posted online.

He went into exile in Mexico two days later.

On Wednesday, Añez sent a bill to congress calling for elections in 2020.

Denouncing the Oct. 20 balloting as fraudulent, she said that it was up to lawmakers to name a new Supreme Electoral Tribunal to administer new elections.

"May God permit that we have transparent elections, may God enlighten the Legislative Assembly," Añez said.

The man she named as justice minister, Alvaro Coimbra, said the first step must be annulling the Oct. 20 vote - a maneuver that is not allowed under current Bolivian law.

MAS, who retained their congressional majority in last month's poll, may well be reluctant to see the results overturned. Añez's party, conversely, garnered only 4 percent of the national vote.

A number of Latin American governments and political leaders have joined Morales in denouncing the events of the last few weeks as a coup.

The United States and Brazil, among others, have recognized Añez as interim president, while many in the international community have limited their response to calling for dialogue while declining to characterize the situation. EFE lar/dr