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Bolivian President Suspicious Over Helicopter Crash

LA PAZ - Bolivian President Evo Morales has voiced suspicions about the crash of a helicopter he used last week that killed five people, saying the incident was "probably not accidental".Morales flew aboard the Super Puma on Sunday in southern Bolivia and was scheduled to use it again on Monday to travel from La Paz to the northern city of Cobija, said Defense Minister Walker San Miguel.

But the helicopter, lent to Morales by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, crashed one hour after Morales got off on Sunday.

The four Venezuelan military personnel and one Bolivian major aboard were all killed in the crash, said Defense Minister Walker San Miguel. The cause of the crash is under investigation.

Morales told a political rally that the disaster was "probably not accidental," bolstering his supporters' claims that it was an attempt to harm the leftist leader.

Morales linked the crash with two others involving Bolivian Air Force aircraft this week that are still under investigation.

In one a plane carrying 32 passengers and four crew made an emergency landing; none of those aboard were injured.

"There is something happening," said Morales, who is facing an intense offensive against his government by conservatives opposed to a referendum on the push for autonomy by five wealthy lowland provinces.

Morales, the first indigenous Bolivian to lead the country in its 183-year history, opposes the autonomy move.

He hinted that the crash could have been aimed at him.

"They can knock down the Indian, but they won't knock down the Bolivian people," he said, referring to the nickname given him by the opposition.

Morales has stressed on other occasions that a conspiracy against the government has been in the works.

© 2008 Agence France Presse

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