Striking miners in Bolivia have kidnapped and beaten to death the country's deputy interior minister after he travelled to the area to mediate in the bitter conflict, government colleagues have said.
Interior minister Carlos Romero called it a "cowardly and brutal killing" and asked that the miners turn over the body of his deputy, Rodolfo Illanes, who holds the formal title of vice minister of the interior regime.
Mr Illanes was "savagely beaten" to death by the striking miners, defence minister Reymi Ferreira told Red Uno television, his voice breaking.
Earlier, Mr Romero had said that Mr Illanes had been kidnapped and possibly tortured, but that he could not confirm local media reports that he had been killed by the striking miners, who are demanding more rights, including the freedom to associate with private companies.
The fatal beating follows the killings of two protesters in clashes with police, deaths that probably escalated tensions in the strike.
Mr Illanes had gone to Panduro, 80 miles south of the La Paz, where the strikers have blockaded a highway since Monday, to open a dialogue. Thousands of passengers and vehicles are stranded on roads blocked by the strikers.
Officials say he was taken hostage by the miners on Thursday morning.
At midday on Thursday, Mr Illanes said on his Twitter account: "My health is fine, my family can be calm." There are reports that Mr Illanes had heart problems.
Bolivia's informal or artisan miners number about 100,000 and work in self-managed co-operatives. They want to be able to associate with private companies, which is prohibited. The government argues that if they associate with multinational companies they would cease to be co-operatives.
The National Federation of Mining Co-operatives of Bolivia, once strong allies of President Evo Morales, went on an indefinite protest after negotiations over the mining legislation failed.