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Irishman's body handed over as Bolivia 'assassin' riddle deepens

The Bolivian authorities have released the remains of an Irishman shot dead by security forces in the wake of an alleged plot to assassinate the country's president.

An Irish diplomat is meeting officials from the ministry of justice in Bolivia today amid reports Michael Dwyer was executed in an illegal operation.

The 24-year-old was shot dead by police in the city of Santa Cruz last Thursday after they claimed to have intercepted an alleged plot to assassinate Bolivia's socialist president, Evo Morales.

The Irish Republic's Department of Foreign Affairs last night confirmed Mr Dwyer's body had been released into the custody of an Irish official who travelled to Bolivia to investigate the circumstances surrounding his death. The repatriation process is expected to take a week.

Mr Dwyer's family is not planning to travel to South America. The deputy head of the Irish mission in Argentina, Derek Lambe, is meeting Bolivian officials today.

Mr Lambe travelled to Bolivia to officially confirm an Irish citizen had died and to establish the facts surrounding his shooting. Today's meeting has been described as the "first step" in a long process and no immediate outcome is expected.

Serious questions are being asked about claims by Bolivian authorities that Mr Dwyer, a graduate from Galway/Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT), was involved in a plot to assassinate Mr Morales. Concerns are also being raised about how he died following the publication of graphic images of him lying on his back in his underwear.

Ireland's Junior Foreign Affairs Minister Dick Roche yesterday confirmed Mr Dwyer had no criminal record or any form of record to suggest "any misbehaviour".

"Twenty-four-year-olds do trot around the world and the fact that they wear military garb doesn't necessarily mean that they've any military involvement," he told RTE's 'Marian Finucane Show'.

Mr Roche said images showing another dead man in the morgue with his hands tied were "most unusual".

A constant stream of friends and relatives arrived at Mr Dwyer's family home over the weekend to comfort his parents, Martin and Caroline, sisters, Ailing (25) and Ciara (21) and brother, Emmett (14).

The family said they were "shocked and devastated" at the death. Speaking outside their home on Saturday, a tearful Caroline shook her head in disbelief over claims that Mr Dwyer was involved in mercenary activities. Friends and neighbours also expressed shock at Michael Dwyer's death.

"Martin and Caroline are devastated. They've been overwhelmed by the number of reporters calling and the pictures in the Bolivian media. It's an awful time for them, they're just decent people," said one man.

Police said Mr Dwyer and two other men were killed during a 30-minute 'shoot-out' at a hotel in Santa Cruz. But concerns over the operation were raised yesterday by lawyers, opposition politicians and the manager of the Hotel de las Americas.

Forensic evidence and eye-witness accounts are said to contradict the official claims of a gunfight. Parts of the Bolivian media are reporting that heavily armed officers surrounded the hotel at 4.30am last Thursday after foiling the alleged assassination plot.

Mr Dwyer was killed along with Eduardo Rosza Flores and Magyarosi Arpak, who is reportedly a Romanian sniper.

The Irishman is friends with Eduardo Rosza Flores on social networking site Facebook.

Two other men -- Mario Francisco Tadik Astorga (58) and Elot Toazo -- were arrested.

The manager of the hotel, Hernan Rosel, has cast doubt on official claims that the suspects had been involved in a dynamite attack on the residence of Catholic Cardinal Julio Terrazas shortly before the police raid.

Mr Rosel said the men were in their rooms when the dynamite attack took place.

A senior lawyer also said the police operation had broken the country's penal code. Police did not have the required warrant signed by a judge before carrying out the operation, reports said.

Chairman of the Bolivian Law Society Edwin Rojas said: "Serious irregularities can be observed in the anti-terrorist operation. These failings have created doubts about the anti-terrorist operation and the investigative process which is being carried out."

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