Clashes as acting Bolivia leader aims to end power vacuum

People react amid tear gas during clashes between members of the security forces and supporters of former Bolivian President Evo Morales in La Paz, Bolivia November 13, 2019. — Reuters pic
People react amid tear gas during clashes between members of the security forces and supporters of former Bolivian President Evo Morales in La Paz, Bolivia November 13, 2019. — Reuters pic

LA PAZ, Nov 14 — Bolivia's interim president Jeanine Anez moved yesterday to fill the power vacuum left behind by the abrupt resignation of Evo Morales, who said he was ready to return from exile in Mexico to “pacify” the country, as riot police clashed with his supporters and one of them was killed.

Anez, a 52-year-old deputy senate speaker before proclaiming herself acting president on Tuesday — a move endorsed by the Constitutional Court — appointed a new military high command and was expected to name her cabinet later Wednesday.

In a press conference at the presidential palace, she reiterated a pledge to “hold elections in the shortest possible time.”

Rejecting Morales' claims that her presidency amounted to a coup, she said: “There is no coup in Bolivia. There is a constitutional replacement.”

“The only coup d'etat in this country has been by Evo Morales,” she said, referring to a 2016 referendum that blocked the ex-president from running for re-election, but which Morales had overturned by the Constitutional Court.

Riot police fired tear gas during clashes with hundreds of Morales' supporters who marched towards the presidential palace to protest Anez's appointment.

A 20-year-old man was shot and killed in a village near the eastern city of Santa Cruz during a clash between Morales supporters and police, a doctor said.

Pro-Morales demonstrations

Bolivia has been in political turmoil since a controversial October 20 election in which Morales was awarded a fourth term as president.

Opposition figures cried foul, claiming electoral fraud and an audit by the Organization of American States (OAS) found clear evidence of vote count manipulation.

Eight people have now died and more than 400 have been injured in the protests to date.

Yesterday, fresh demonstrations were taking place in Morales strongholds of El Alto, around 20 kilometresfrom La Paz, and El Chapare, a coca-growing region in the center of the country.

The La Paz clashes took place three blocks from the presidential palace, where Anez was presiding over the appointments of the military brass, including commander in chief General Sergio Carlos Orellana.

Anez praised the “democratic disposition of the Armed Forces and police” who abandoned Morales last weekend, forcing him to resign on Sunday after weeks of protest over his re-election.

Police units in various parts of the country had rebelled on Friday, siding with opposition supporters in a move that appeared to hasten Morales' resignation.

Yesterday, troops tried to remove barricades on the main highway linking two of the country's biggest cities, Santa Cruz and Cochabamba, amid efforts to resume business as usual after three weeks of protests and strikes brought much of the country to a halt.

Public transport services in La Paz were returning to normal yesterday, and bank and businesses reopening.

“We are doing everything possible to bring everything back to normal,” said police chief, General Yuri Calderon. He said dozens of small police stations had been ransacked and burned by pro-Morales supporters in the wake of the ex-president's resignation.

Morales 'ready to return'

“If the people ask me, we are ready to return to pacify” Bolivia, Morales told a news conference in Mexico City, where he arrived Tuesday after receiving political asylum.

Morales, who became the country's first indigenous president in 2006 and ruled for nearly 14 years, resigned and fled Bolivia on Sunday after losing the support of the army and police following weeks of protests that greeted his re-election.

He called for a “national dialogue” to resolve the crisis in Bolivia and rejected Anez's legitimacy.

Speaking in his first news conference from exile, he said his stay in Mexico City would be temporary.

“We're going to return, sooner or later. The sooner the better, to pacify Bolivia,” he said.

Anez was recognised as president by the Constitution Court on the grounds that it was necessitated by the resignations of those above her in the government hierarchy.

As well as Morales, Bolivia's vice-president, Senate president and speaker of the lower house of Congress had also resigned, leaving Anez as the most senior figure still in office.

Anez, previously the Senate vice-president, tried to gain support for her appointment but failed to reach a quorum as senators from Morales's Movement for Socialism (MAS) boycotted Tuesday's session.

Many senators stayed away amid blockades and continuing protests by Morales supporters.

In a barrage of tweets from Mexico, Morales called Anez "a coup-mongering right-wing senator" who had “declared herself... interim president without a legislative quorum, surrounded by a group of accomplices.”

Morales, 60, was Latin America's longest-serving leader until Sunday.

He had initially tried to hold onto power and called new elections following the OAS audit but that failed to quash the protests against his rule. — AFP

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