Reuters International

Bolivian Deputy Interior Minister Rodolfo Illanes is seen in this undated handout picture provided by Bolivian Presidency on August 25, 2016. REUTERS/Bolivian Presidency/Handout via REUTERS

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By Daniel Ramos

LA PAZ (Reuters) - Bolivia on Thursday announced a crackdown on the operations of mining co-operatives, a week after the murder of a government official who had attempted dialogue with protesting miners.

Three miners were arrested at the weekend for the murder of Deputy Interior Minister Rodolfo Illanes. The accused included the head of a federation of mining co-operatives that had organised protests.

The beaten body of Illanes was found by the side of the road hours after he had approached the protesters to talk over their concerns, authorities said.

The miners, who have seen their income hit by the global commodities slowdown, had been demanding increased rights to work with private companies, relaxed environmental restrictions and more financial benefits. At least two miners were killed in clashes with police last week.

President Evo Morales has accused the right-wing opposition of encouraging the protests to foment discord, and his socialist government hit back Thursday with tighter restrictions for miners who work in co-operatives.

Five decrees were agreed on after an emergency cabinet meeting, Mining Minister Cesar Navarro said at a press conference.

They include reverting to state control of all existing contracts between co-operatives and private companies. The government has previously said there are 31 such contracts.

Other measures include the state carrying out a thorough audit of co-operative mining areas with the right to take back those not being actively exploited, and the banning of the use of "explosives and other related materials" at demonstrations or strikes.

Few foreign companies operate in Bolivia's mining sector, which is dominated by the co-operatives mining zinc, lead, silver, tin and other metals.

There are currently around 120,000 miners working in around 1,700 co-operatives, who have received tax concessions and other benefits from the government in recent years.

(Reporting by Daniel Ramos; Writing by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Chris Reese)

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