Clashes as interim leader in Bolivia aims to end power vacuum

Thousands of Evo Morales backers flooded the streets of La Paz on Thursday in support of the embattled former leader, who resigned and fled to Mexico amid rising pressure over vote-rigging allegations.
Anez applauds during a military oath-taking event at the Quemado presidential palace in La Paz.
Anez applauds during a military oath-taking event at the Quemado presidential palace in La Paz.PHOTO: AFP

LA PAZ (AFP) - Bolivia's interim president, Jeanine Anez, moved on Wednesday (Nov 13) to fill the power vacuum left behind by the abrupt resignation of Evo Morales, who said he was ready to return from his exile in Mexico to "pacify" the country as riot police clashed with his supporters.

Anez, a 52-year-old deputy senate speaker before proclaiming herself acting president on Tuesday - a move endorsed by the Constitutional Court - was expected to name her Cabinet later in the day.

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

The clashes took place just three blocks from the presidency, where Anez was naming a new military high command.

Other protests were taking place in Morales strongholds of El Alto, around 20km from La Paz, and El Chapare, a coca-growing region in the centre of the country.

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 on Wednesday, 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.

Police units in various parts of the country had mutinied on Friday, siding with opposition supporters.


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

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

Seven people have died in more than three weeks of protests.


"If the people ask me, we are ready to return to pacify" Bolivia, Morales told a news conference in Mexico City, where he arrived on 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.