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An independent miner returns a tear gas capsule during clashes with riot police during a protest against Bolivia's President Evo Morales' government policies, in Panduro south of La Paz, Bolivia, August 25, 2016. Picture taken in August 25, 2016. REUTERS/APG Agency

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By Daniel Ramos

LA PAZ (Reuters) - Bolivian miners lifted the roadblock where violent protests had taken place this week, a day after a government deputy minister was beaten to death, with President Evo Morales calling Friday a day of "deep pain" for the country.

Deputy Interior Minister Rodolfo Illanes, 56, was killed on Thursday after being taken hostage by workers who had blocked a major highway in Panduro, around 160 km (100 miles) from capital city La Paz. Officials said he died of blows to the head.

The workers were demanding more mining concessions with less stringent environmental rules.

"Our natural resources belong to the people, which is why I call brother Illanes a hero in the defence of our natural resources," Morales told local media, calling for a three-day period of mourning.

Illanes had travelled to Panduro to negotiate with the miners. His body was found in the early morning by the side of the highway that connects La Paz with the city of Oruro, wrapped in a blanket, said Edwin Blanco, the prosecutor in charge of the investigation.

"The cause of death was basically bleeding in the brain. Ribs were also broken," Blanco told reporters.

Morales said the protests and Illanes' death looked to be part of a "political conspiracy rather than a legitimate social claim" made by the miners.

Morales, an ex-coca grower, nationalized Bolivia's resources sector after taking power in 2006, initially winning plaudits for plowing the profits into welfare programs.

But his government has been dogged by accusations of cronyism and authoritarianism in recent years. Some labour unions have soured on him as falling commodity prices have crimped spending.

The Panduro protest turned violent this week after a highway was blockaded. Two workers were killed on Wednesday after police fired shots. The government said 17 police officers had been wounded.

Bolivia's Panduro area has zinc, gold and silver mines. Most of the country's miners, including those involved in the protests, work in cooperatives. Unlike neighbouring Peru and Chile, there are few foreign-owned mining companies.

(Reporting by Daniel Ramos; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

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