LA PAZ (Reuters) – Bolivia’s new interim president on Wednesday said she wanted elections as soon as possible and denied a coup had taken place against former leader and newly-exiled Evo Morales, who hinted he could return to Bolivia.
Bolivian Interim President Jeanine Anez talks to the media during a news conference at the Presidential Palace, in La Paz, Bolivia November 13, 2019. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez
Senate vice-president and conservative Jeanine Anez, 52, assumed the interim role on Tuesday when Morales fled to Mexico after his 14-year socialist rule ended in violent protests and recriminations.
Morales resigned on Sunday on the back of rising pressure over accusations of vote rigging in last month’s election. But he struck a defiant tone from Mexico where he is seeking asylum.
“If my people ask, we’re ready to go back. We’ll return sooner or later … to pacify Bolivia,” he said at a news conference in Mexico City.
Anez faces an immediate challenge from lawmakers of Morales’ Movement for Socialism (MAS) party, who have a majority in parliament and have threatened a rival session to nullify her presidency.
Anez declared herself president invoking a constitutional clause that puts her next in line for succeeding the president. But Morales’ loyalists say that move was illegal because Congress did not accept Morales’ resignation or appoint her in any legislative session as required under the constitution.
On Wednesday, television showed large numbers of police around the central Plaza Murillo in La Paz. They appeared to block MAS lawmakers, including the former head of the senate Adriana Salvatierra, from entering the government building.
Salvatierra had announced her resignation publicly but said Wednesday that her resignation letter had not been presented before the legislature and thus was not finalised. “I’m still senator,” Salvatierra told journalists.
Police also fired tear gas in the city centre to break up crowds after thousands of Morales supporters marched into La Paz from nearby El Alto, many carrying the colourful flags of regional indigenous groups.
Many previously marginalized indigenous groups saw their power and affluence rise significantly under Morales, a former coca grower who was Bolivia’s first indigenous president.
Bolivia’s Attorney General has said that there have been seven fatalities in the 23 days of conflict, including in the cities of La Paz, Santa Cruz and Cochabamba.
People in La Paz were split on Anez. “She does not represent the people, but the big elites, the society that has money but does not represent the poor,” said bread seller Ruth Moscoso.
Others cheered Anez taking over the interim role and hoped it would bring stability after weeks of protests.
“It seems she is going to act in a fair way and will get us out of this mess,” Jose Clarens said on his way to a market.
At the government palace, Anez said she planned to call elections “in the shortest possible time.”
“I now call for a peaceful and democratic transition, revoking the conditions that had made us into a totalitarian country,” Anez said.
MORALES PROMISES TO KEEP FIGHTING
In 48 hours of turmoil at the weekend, mutinous police climbed on station buildings and joined marches, allies deserted Morales, the Washington-based Organization of American States (OAS) declared his re-election was manipulated, and the military urged him to quit.
International reaction to the crisis is divided. Left-wing allies echoed Morales’ allegations of a coup and others cheered his resignation as good for democracy.
Conservative-led Brazil and Britain congratulated Anez. A U.S. official said Washington would “look forward to working with her and Bolivia’s other civilian authorities as they arrange free and fair elections as soon as possible.”
Anti-Morales protesters say pressure had built to a point of no-return after increasing evidence of tampering with the October vote, and that he had gone against the will of the people by seeking a fourth term after he lost a 2016 referendum on changing the constitution to allow him to run again.
But Morales promised to keep up the political fight.
He attacked the OAS audit of the Oct. 20 election.
“The OAS took a political decision, not a technical or legal one,” Morales said from Mexico City. “The OAS is in the service of the North American empire.”
Bolivia’s largest union threatened a widespread strike unless politicians could restore stability, while a coca farmers’ union official and a lawmaker close to Morales called for protests until he returned to finish his mandate in January.
Reporting by Gram Slattery, Daniel Ramos, Miguel Lo Bianco and Monica Machicao in La Paz and Diego Ore in Mexico City; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Rosalba O’Brien and Grant McCool