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Video by Marian HENBEST

Latest update : 2009-04-17

Bolivian President Evo Morales said three foreigners were killed in a half-hour shootout in a Santa Cruz hotel Thursday, as security services thwarted an assassination plot against him and his top officials.

AFP - Bolivia's President Evo Morales said police in his country on Thursday broke up a plot by foreign mercenaries to kill him, suggesting that right-wing opponents were behind it.
In La Paz, Bolivian police said that three people were shot to death and two detained in the eastern city of Santa Cruz when police raided a downtown hotel in search of a "terrorist group."
Morales, who was visiting here on his way to a summit in Trinidad and Tobago, said the raid set off a 30-minute firefight.
They were "plotting against the life of the vice president and of Evo Morales," he said, referring to himself in the third person.
"They are foreign mercenaries -- they are Irish, Hungarians and of course there are no Bolivians," he said.
Police in La Paz, however, said some Bolivians were involved, and Vice President Alvaro Garcia said at a news conference that the foreigners involved were Croats and Irish.
Officials said the government had documents showing that the opposition governor of Santa Cruz, Ruben Costas, also was a target of the plot along with Morales and Garcia.
"What must be done is to find out who financed this group of terrorist mercenaries," Garcia said.
Morales suggested that the alleged plot was linked to right-wing opponents of a new election law that is enabling him to run for a second five-year term in December, and which grants broad new rights to the country's indigenous communities.
Santa Cruz, a city of some 1.5 million people in eastern Bolivia, has been the center of opposition to Morales and his populist reforms.
Morales said the plotters sought to divert attention of authorities with an attack on Wednesday at the residence of Bolivia's Cardinal Julio Terrazas.
"I had information that an attempt was being prepared and I left instructions to launch an operation to detain the mercenaries," he said.
"This morning I was informed that there was a half-hour shootout at a hotel in Santa Cruz where three people fell," Morales said.
An elite police unit went into the hotel at 5:30 am (0930 GMT) on the basis of information that a "terrorist group composed of foreigners and some Bolivians" was inside, Bolivia's police chief said in La Paz.
"In this confrontation, lamentably three people were killed and two have been detained," General Victor Hugo Escobar said.
Escobar said a large quantity of explosives and high powered weapons were recovered.
"We have established that it was a terrorist group by their modus operandi and by the quantity of explosives and weapons found," he said.
The police commander made no mention of plans to assassinate the president or vice president, but said the group "had targets to continue attacking many personalities in the city of Santa Cruz and some personalities in La Paz."

Date created : 2009-04-16