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Clashes rock Bolivia as interim leader aims to end power vacuum

China Daily | Updated: 2019-11-15 09:30

A demonstrator pushes a member of the security forces during a protest in La Paz, Bolivia, on Wednesday. CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS

LA PAZ, Bolivia - Renewed clashes rocked Bolivia's capital on Wednesday as the woman who claimed the presidency, a secondtier lawmaker thrust into the post because of a power vacuum, faced challenges to her leadership from supporters of the ousted Evo Morales.

A day after Senator Jeanine Anez assumed power, violent clashes broke out between rock-throwing Morales backers and police in riot gear, who fired volleys of tear gas to disperse the large crowd of protesters as fighter jets flew low overhead in a show of force.

Opposition was also building in Congress, where lawmakers loyal to Morales were mounting a challenge to Anez's legitimacy by trying to hold new sessions that would undermine her claim to the presidency. A little-known deputy senate speaker, she stepped in after all the other officials in line to act as interim president resigned following Morales' lead.

The sessions - dismissed as invalid by Anez's faction - added to the political uncertainty following the resignation of Morales, the nation's first indigenous leader, after nearly 14 years in power. He has been granted asylum in Mexico.

In the streets, angry demonstrators tore off corrugated sheets of metal and wooden planks from construction sites to use as weapons, and some set off sticks of dynamite. Many flooded the streets of the capital and its sister city of El Alto, a Morales stronghold, waving the multicolored indigenous flag and chanting, "Now, civil war!"

"We're going to fight with our brothers and sisters until Evo Morales is back. We ask for his return. He needs to put the house in order," Paulina Luchampe said.

The 60-year-old Morales has vowed to remain active in politics and said he would be willing to go back home. "If the people ask me, we are willing to return," he said at a news conference on Wednesday in Mexico City.

90 days until new poll

According to the Constitution, an interim president has 90 days to organize an election, The disputed accession of Anez was one example of the long list of obstacles the former opposition senator faces. Morales' backers, who hold a two-thirds majority in the Congress, boycotted the session she called on Tuesday night to formalize her claim to the presidency, preventing a quorum.

The 52-year-old Anez claimed power anyway, saying the constitution did not specifically require congressional approval.

"My commitment is to return democracy and tranquility to the country," she said. "They can never again steal our vote."

Bolivia's top constitutional court issued a statement late on Tuesday, laying out the legal justification for Anez's assumption of the interim presidency - without mentioning her by name.

But other legal experts challenged the legal technicalities that led to her claim, saying at least some of the steps required Congress to meet.

The lingering questions could affect her ability to govern.

Eduardo Gamarra, a Bolivian and professor of political science at Florida International University, said the Constitution clearly states that Anez doesn't need a congressional vote to assume the presidency. Even so, "the next two months are going to be extraordinarily difficult for President Anez", he said.

Jennifer Cyr, an associate professor of political science and Latin American studies at the University of Arizona, said it "doesn't seem likely" that Morales' party will accept Anez as president".

"So the question of what happens next remains - still quite unclear and extremely worrying," she said.

Anez will need to form a new electoral court, find nonpartisan staff for the electoral tribunal and get Congress, which is controlled by Morales' Movement for Socialism Party, to vote on a new election.

Morales resigned on Sunday following weeks of violent protests fed by allegations of electoral fraud in the Oct 20 election, which he claimed to have won.

But his resignation came only after General Williams Kaliman, the armed forces commander, urged him to step down "for the good of Bolivia" - a move that Morales and his backers have branded a coup d'etat.

Ten people have died since the protests began, Bolivia's prosecutor office said Wednesday.


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