La Paz: Five protesters shot dead during a confrontation with Bolivian police and troops outside the city of Cochabamba, an official said.

The five victims died en route to a hospital in nearby Sacaba, Nelson Cox, a representative of the Ombudsman’s Office told Efe news on Friday, blaming security forces for a “disproportionate” response to a group of cocoa growers marching toward Cochabamba for a protest against the self-proclaimed interim government that took power after President Evo Morales resigned on November 10.

At least 22 people with gunshot wounds were taken to hospitals in Sacaba and Cochabamba, Cox said, adding that security forces were delaying ambulances at checkpoints.

“We have had since Sunday (November 10) an escalation of interventions by the joint forces – police and armed forces – whose interventions have taken a disproportionate form,” Cox said.

The Bolivian National Police blamed shots fired by members of the march for the casualties in Sacaba.

Morales entered politics after years as the leader of the cocoa growers union in the Chapare region of Cochabamba province, where support for Bolivia’s first indigenous president remains strong.

The cocoa growers apparently planned to gather in Cochabamba city in preparation for a march to La Paz.

Reacting to Friday’s violence, Morales pleaded with police and soldiers to “halt the massacre”.

“The uniform of the institutions of the Fatherland cannot be stained with the blood of our people,” he said from Mexico, where he arrived on Tuesday to take up an offer of political asylum.

In La Paz and the neighboUring city of El Alto, thousands of partisans of Morales’ leftist MAS party took to the streets again to denounce the interim government, led by right-wing former Sentor Jeanine Anez, which announced on Friday that it had severed diplomatic relations with leftist Venezuela, an oil-rich nation that had been a close ally of Bolivia since 2006.

Anez also warned Morales that he faces electoral fraud and corruption allegations and that justice awaits him if returns home.