The Government declared a state of siege today and arrested labor leaders who had refused to end a 16-day-old general strike. The strike was organized as a protest against a wage freeze intended to fight inflation of 14,000 percent.
Before dawn, hundreds of soldiers supported by tanks took up positions in La Paz, in other cities and on highways. Violence was reported in some parts of the capital.
Tens of thousands of workers were on strike, and the conservative Government of President Victor Paz Estenssoro announced that strikers would be dismissed unless they returned to work. Many stayed home nevertheless.
During the night, riot policemen staged raids at the Congress building, five union halls, a radio station, San Andres University and the state mining company offices in La Paz, according to union activists who had escaped.
The Interior Ministry said 150 labor activists, including the 18 members of the executive committee of the Bolivian Workers Central, the leftist national labor federation, had been sent into internal exile in Bolivia's subtropical north.
Unofficial estimates of the number of arrests ranged up to 600. Twenty labor activists took refuge in the Mexican Embassy.
Soldiers raided a textile factory in La Paz and fired on striking workers who had beaten up four policemen, witnesses said. Two strikers were wounded by the police gunfire, the witnesses said.
In downtown La Paz, national guardsmen used tear gas to disperse hundreds of student demonstrators.
The strike has shut down mines, railroads, domestic airlines, long-distance telephone service and Bolivia's biggest oil refinery since Sept. 4. Many schools and factories also have been affected.
The state of siege President Paz Estenssoro declared is to remain in effect for 90 days throughout the country. It empowers the police to hold people without charge for 48 hours or move them to internal exile in remote areas.
All labor assemblies and marches are banned, as are gatherings of three or more people on the streets from midnight to 6 A.M.
A state of siege also empowers the President to enlarge the armed forces and call up reserves.
Bolivia is in the fourth year of a deep recession, and Government officials say the strike is costing the economy $2 million a day.
The President, a 77-year-old conservative populist, took office Aug. 6 after three years of left-of-center civilian Government during which there were frequent strikes and inflationary wage settlements.