LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — Bolivia's military leaders on Thursday ordered the dismissal for sedition of 702 enlisted men who had been protesting to demand they have the option of rising to the rank of officer.
The army, navy and air force said in a statement that they have ordered the dismissal of the soldiers because they "committed acts of sedition, rebellion, conducted political actions and attacked the honor of the Armed Forces."
The unprecedented military protest began on Tuesday with 500 soldiers, but expanded to about 1,000 on Thursday. Non-commissioned officers and sergeants marched through the capital of La Paz dressed in camouflage uniforms, together with some of their wives and Aymara indigenous leaders who supported their demands.
Protesters say the military discriminates against indigenous Bolivians, an accusation denied by defense officials.
The protesters are demanding changes so that non-commissioned officers in Bolivia's military may study to become career officers. They are also demanding the release of four protest leaders fired Monday and say they want more medical benefits on a par with officers.
"It cannot be that they dismiss our brothers for demanding their rights. We will expand the protest if they are not reinstituted," said indigenous leader Samuel Coarite.
On Wednesday, Defense Minister Ruben Saavedra said the situation in Bolivia's armed forces is changing and that in 2015 enlisted men and sergeants will be able to receive scholarships to study the same as officers.
The protesters have asked to meet with President Evo Morales, but Aymara president has not spoken publicly about the demonstrations.