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Protesters, police clash in Bolivia over proposed law

By the CNN Wire Staff
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Police and protesters clashed in La Paz, Bolivia
  • Tear gas was used, and 19 protesters were arrested
  • At issue is a proposed law that would have tough sanctions on the sale of contraband
  • Small merchants say it would target them

(CNN) -- Police in La Paz, Bolivia, fired tear gas Wednesday to disperse merchants participating in a two-day protest against a proposed law with tough sanctions for selling contraband.

Police in riot gear, some on motorcycles, used tear gas to reclaim streets surrounding Murillo Plaza, a main square in La Paz where the national executive and legislative offices are, video from CNN affiliate Unitel showed.

Nineteen protesters were arrested in the clashes with police.

At issue is a bill being considered in Bolivia's parliament that would bring tough sanctions to merchants who sell contraband. Small, informal merchants fear that the law would unfairly target them, compared to large shops.

As many as 5,000 merchants created a barrier around the plaza, the state-run ABI news agency reported.

On Wednesday, protesters controlled the Murillo Plaza for almost eight hours, ABI reported. It was the second day of protests, the agency said.

The government defended that law at a news conference.

The proposed law, known as the Customs Law, will not affect the small merchants who work legally, but it will be hard against "contraband magnates," the minister of Economy and Finance, Luis Arce Catacora, said, according to ABI.