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Bolivians vow to block Dakar Rally on salt flats

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Aymara Indians are vowing to block Dakar Rally competitors from Bolivia's high-altitude salt flats, where President Evo Morales is hoping the world's hardest rally will boost tourism.

Organizers of the race, which starts in Rosario on Sunday, are permitting only motorbikes and quad bikes near Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flats in the world. Cars and trucks will take a more direct route from Argentina into Chile on Jan. 12 and 13.

While some Aymara back the race, others fear crowds will leave rubbish and the racers will carve deep marks into the shiny white surface.

Morales, an Aymara, wants the brief Bolivia leg to bring attention to one of the world's most remote and beautiful places.

The Salar de Uyuni is 3,600 meters above sea level and stretches over more than 11,000 square kilometers. It's a breeding ground every November for South American flamingos, and the briny water under the lake's hard surface has high concentrations of lithium, which is mined for batteries.

Rain is expected during the Bolivia leg, which could leave a sheen of water over the crusty surface and create what seems like an endless mirror. But that liquid also could moisten the salt, raising chances that heavy equipment will break through hard layers that have built up over thousands of years.

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