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U.S. issues Bolivia travel warning


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Citing the "unstable political and security situation" in Bolivia, the State Department Thursday urged Americans not to travel there and suggested that U.S. citizens already there leave immediately.

The travel warning said the situation in Bolivia might be especially precarious in the capital city of La Paz, which is experiencing shortages of goods and services.

Weeks of rioting prompted by President Sanchez de Lozada's decision to export natural gas to the United States and Mexico through a pipeline in Chile have resulted in dozens of deaths and calls for the government to be overthrown.

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The protests have virtually paralyzed the country, bringing public transportation and many other services to a halt.

"These events are undermining constitutional order and democratic values and have led to a tragic loss of life," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. "We repeat our call to Bolivians to reject confrontation that could lead to more violence."

The warning also cautioned that flights in to and out of the national airport in La Paz have been disrupted recently, stranding passengers.

Earlier this week, on Tuesday, the State Department issued a "public announcement" warning U.S. citizens against travel to Bolivia.

State Department "public announcements" are a way of making public information about terrorist threats and other short-term conditions that pose significant risks to the security of U.S. citizens traveling abroad. In the past, these announcements have been issued to deal with short-term coups, bomb threats to airlines, violence by terrorists and anniversary dates of specific terrorist events, according to the State Department.

State Department travel warnings recommend that Americans avoid travel to a certain country.

Although the travel warning represents heightened concern, Bolivia has not been the safest of places for travel in recent years.

Demonstrations by various local groups protesting government or private company policies occur frequently in urban areas, even in otherwise peaceful times, according to the State Department. Protesters occasionally use explosive devices and, in some cases, the police have used tear gas and force.

In recent years, civil unrest has become more generalized, spreading to both urban and rural areas. The State Department recommends that U.S. citizens considering a visit to Bolivia monitor local news sources before considering overland travel within the country.

There have been no terrorist-related attacks against U.S. interests or persons in Bolivia since 1995, according to the State Department.

--CNN State Department Producer Elise Labott contributed to this report


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