World

Power vacuum in Bolivia as Morales asks opposition to ensure calm

Power vacuum in Bolivia as Morales asks opposition to ensure calm
  • Shops and offices in La Paz were shuttered early Monday after looting broke out late Sunday in some parts of the capital and the neighbouring city of El Alto.
  • Tweeting from the central coca-growing region of Chapare, where he fled on Sunday, Morales called on the opposition to "assume its responsibility" after Sunday's riots.
  • Morales announced his resignation in a televised address Sunday, capping a day of fast-moving events in which many ministers and senior officials quit, some seeking refuge in the Mexican ambassador's residence.

La Paz,

Bolivia's Evo Morales called Monday on the opposition that ousted him to "pacify the country" after his shock resignation following weeks of protests over his disputed re-election left a power vacuum in the country.

Shops and offices in La Paz were shuttered early Monday after looting broke out late Sunday in some parts of the capital and the neighbouring city of El Alto.

Thousands of commuters were forced to walk to work in the morning drizzle as the city's cable-car network remained paralyzed and buses were scarce.

The police -- largely confined to barracks since riots broke out on Friday, with many units joining the protests -- were returning to the streets, police chief Vladimir Yuri Calderon said. "The Bolivian police will be acting," Calderon told ATB television.

IN HIDING

Tweeting from the central coca-growing region of Chapare, where he fled on Sunday, Morales called on the opposition to "assume its responsibility" after Sunday's riots.

He said the opposition leadership had a "responsibility to pacify the country and guarantee the political stability and peaceful coexistence of our people."

Morales, who was Bolivia's first indigenous President, said his opposition rivals, Carlos Mesa and Luis Fernando Camacho, "discriminators and conspirators, will go down in history as racists and coup plotters."

Camacho is a key opposition leader in Santa Cruz, Bolivia's biggest city and economic capital. Mesa, a former president, came a close second to Morales in the disputed October 20 election.

Morales, whose Movement for Socialism party retains a majority in the Congress that will elect his temporary successor, said "the world and patriotic Bolivians repudiate the coup."

RESIGNATION

Morales announced his resignation in a televised address Sunday, capping a day of fast-moving events in which many ministers and senior officials quit, some seeking refuge in the Mexican ambassador's residence.

The streets of La Paz immediately exploded in celebration, with jubilant Bolivians waving the country's flag, but violence and vandalism later erupted overnight there and in El Alto.

In the confusion, a group of 20 lawmakers and government officials took refuge at the Mexican ambassador's residence, and Mexico announced it was offering asylum to Morales as well.

Morales also wrote that "violent groups" had attacked his home.

Police announced on Sunday night that they had arrested Maria Eugenia Choque, the head of the country's electoral court, an institution slammed by the opposition as biased.

Morales, a member of the Aymara indigenous community, is a former coca farmer who became Bolivia's first indigenous president in 2006.

He defended his legacy Sunday, which includes landmark gains against hunger and poverty and tripling the country's economy during his nearly 14 years in office.

He gained a controversial fourth term when he was declared the winner of the presidential election by a narrow margin.

ELECTIONS FRAUD

But the opposition said there was fraud in the vote count and three weeks of street protests ensued, during which three people died and hundreds were injured.

The Organization of American States carried out an audit of the election and on Sunday reported irregularities in just about every aspect that it examined: the technology used, the chain of custody of ballots, the integrity of the count, and statistical projections.

As chanting Bolivians kept up demonstrations in the street, the 60-year-old Morales called new elections, but this was not enough to calm the uproar. The commanders of the armed forces and the police joined the calls for the president's resignation.

NEXT IN LINE

A raft of ministerial resignations followed Morales' announcement and raised the question of who was in charge, given that vice president Alvaro Garcia Linera also resigned.

Under the constitution, power then passes to the president of the Senate and the speaker of the lower house of Congress, in that order. But they have resigned, too.

An opposition senator, Jeanine Anez, said on Sunday she would assume the interim presidency of Bolivia. But Congress will first have to be convened for a vote to take place.

With the situation in Bolivia unclear following the fast-moving events, regional heavyweight Colombia called for an urgent meeting of the OAS permanent council to look for solutions.

REACTIONS

Latin American leftist allies rallied to denounce what they called a coup against one of their own.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro said Morales and Bolivia's indigenous communities were "victims of racism."

Hooded demonstrators overran Venezuela's embassy in La Paz on Sunday, the country's ambassador, Crisbeylee Gonzalez, told state news agency ABI.

Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez described Morales as "a protagonist and a symbol of the rights of the indigenous peoples of our Americas."

And Brazil's Luis Inacio Lula da Silva said the coup that removed Morales was evidence of "an economic elite in Latin America that did not know how to share democracy with poor people."

Argentina's Fernandez said a coup had been carried out "by the joint actions of violent civilians, police personnel who confined themselves to their barracks, and the passivity of the army."

On Monday, the Russian government, also an ally of Morales, said violent action by the opposition had forced Morales out, while UN secretary general Antonio Guterres called for "restraint" from all sides.