TWO OF Britain's biggest multinational corporations are at the centre of protests gripping Bolivia.
The country is the poorest in South America, with 70 percent of its people living below the official poverty line of $2 a day.
Workers and peasants have launched major protests and strikes in the last week against a government plan to hand the country's massive natural gas reserves to global corporations.
At the centre of the gas export plan is Pacific LNG, a consortium in which the key players are the Spanish-based Repsol oil and gas corporation and Britain's BP and British Gas.
Bolivia has the largest gas reserves in South America and the corporations hope to make vast profits by exporting the gas to Mexico and the US.
The government of President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada is pushing a major wave of privatisations.
This is linked to an International Monetary Fund 'poverty reduction strategy', a rebranding of what used to be called a 'structural adjustment programme'.
The name may have changed, but the reality is a package of privatisations and welfare cuts.
The gas export plan has become a lightning conductor for wide-ranging grievances against the government.
Protesters blocked roads around the country, students staged protests in the capital La Paz and teachers and other workers held strikes.
Seven people were killed in clashes with troops, and police used teargas against protesting students.
The protesters are calling for the resignation of the country's president and demanding that the gas be used to develop Bolivia and to supply free fuel to the poor.
At the start of this week it was not clear whether the new wave of protests would grow on a scale sufficient to force either the president to resign or him and his multinational partners to retreat on the gas plan.