La Paz: Mexico announced Monday it had granted asylum to Bolivian leader Evo Morales, as the senator set to succeed him as interim president, Jeanine Anez, pledged to call fresh elections in the troubled South American country.
The United Nations and Organization of American States earlier voiced fears of a breakdown in security in a country that appeared increasingly rudderless after dozens of officials and ministers resigned, some seeking refuge in foreign embassies.
“We are going to call elections,” Anez told reporters in La Paz, saying that there will be “an electoral process that reflects the will of all Bolivians,” a day after the shock resignation of Morales and his ministers left the country in a power vacuum.
Anez, a 52-year-old deputy senate speaker, is constitutionally in line to become interim president, and likely to be tasked by Congress to oversee fresh elections and a transition to a new government by January 22.
Lawmakers are due to meet Tuesday to begin the process.
“I hope that we now give some certainty in this country that needs it so much,” Anez said.
Tweeting from the central coca-growing region of Chapare, where he fled on Sunday, Morales called on the opposition to “pacify the country” as some of his supporters were violently set upon in La Paz, while a top opposition figure said he feared an imminent mob attack on his home.
Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said he had received a call from Morales “to verbally and formally request asylum in our country” and that the request had been granted.
Morales supporters arrested
AFP photographers saw civilians making arrests after tussling with Morales supporters in La Paz, sometimes assisted by police. Some of those arrested were made to kneel in the street, hands behind their backs. Some were bloodied.
Meanwhile, AFP reporters said they saw a column of hundreds of Morales supporters marching on La Paz from the neighboring city of El Alto.
Opposition presidential candidate Carlos Mesa said on Twitter he was under immediate threat.
“Many people are alerting me to say that a violent mob is on its way to my home to destroy it. I ask the national police to stop that madness.”
Shops and offices in La Paz were shuttered Monday in the wake of looting that broke out late Sunday in some parts of the capital and the neighboring city of El Alto.
“La Paz has experienced a night of terror,” the capital’s mayor Luis Revilla said, adding that 64 buses were destroyed in the disturbances.
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.
However, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres voiced disquiet over the security situation, and the Organization of American States (OAS) called for “peace and respect for the rule of law”.
The Washington-based institution — which was to meet Tuesday to address the situation — also called on Bolivia’s Congress to urgently “name new electoral authorities to guarantee a new electoral process.”
The call came after Security Minister Carlos Romero, who has responsibility for the police, took refuge at the Argentine embassy, a foreign ministry source told AFP in Buenos Aires.
Several of Morales’ ministers and top officials resigned after his announcement — including many who sought refuge at the Mexican embassy — raising 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.
Anez, a senator for the northeastern department of Beni, stepped in Sunday to say she would assume the presidency, given her position as deputy senate leader.
The 60-year-old Morales announced his resignation in a televised address Sunday, capping a day of fast-moving events.
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.
Morales, a former coca farmer who was Bolivia’s first indigenous president, said Monday that his opposition rivals, Mesa and Luis Fernando Camacho, “will go down in history as racists and coup plotters.”
Morales also wrote that “violent groups” had attacked his home.
US President Donald Trump hailed Morales’ resignation as a “significant moment for democracy in the Western Hemisphere,” and praised the role of the country’s military.
“These events send a strong signal to the illegitimate regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua that democracy and the will of the people will always prevail,” Trump said, referring to two other leftist Latin American nations targeted by his administration.
Venezuela and Cuba meanwhile denounced what they called a coup.
Morales 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.
But the opposition cried foul and three weeks of street protests ensued, during which three people died and hundreds were injured.
An OAS audit of the election found irregularities in just about every aspect that it examined.
As chanting Bolivians kept up demonstrations, Morales called new elections, but this was not enough to calm the uproar, and commanders of the armed forces and the police ultimately swung behind calls for his resignation.