Bolivia unions strike, demand higher salary hike
* Gov't says raises above 10 pct would be "irresponsible"
LA PAZ, April 7 (Reuters) - Bolivian trade unions went on strike on Thursday to demand a higher wage rise than the 10 percent offered by the government, the Andean country's biggest umbrella union said.
But production and exports of natural gas and metals such as zinc, lead and silver remained normal in the mineral-rich country, Communications Minister Ivan Canelas said on Thursday.
The Bolivian Workers Central group, known by its Spanish acronym COB, says the pay increase should be higher to offset rising consumer prices. Workers downed tools early on Thursday following a day of violent protests in capital city La Paz.
"We're calling an indefinite strike starting today," Pedro Montes of the COB labor federation told local radio.
"The strike will go on until the government agrees to a salary increase of more than 10 percent ... from now on we demand to speak to the president directly."
Bolivia reported inflation of 3.89 percent in the first quarter, but unions say consumer prices actually rose faster than the official rate. The COB is asking for a 20 percent wage hike.
Leftist Bolivian President Evo Morales ordered a 10 percent pay rise for public sector workers. His government branded the protests an attempt to destabilize the country.
"Everyone deserves a better salary but we're not going to mortgage our wealth and (our foreign reserves) just to pay salaries," Bolivia's Vice President Alvaro Garcia said before the strike, adding that it would be irresponsible meet union wage demands.
Morales enjoys strong support among Bolivia's poor indigenous majority but a proposed fuel hike last year enraged his leftist base, sparked nationwide protests and posed one of the biggest crises in his five years in office.