New clashes in Bolivia as election protest enters second week
La Paz (AFP) –
Street battles broke out on Monday between supporters of President Evo Morales and opposition leader Carlos Mesa as protests against alleged electoral fraud in Bolivia entered a second week.
Residents of the Achumani neighborhood in southern La Paz used tree limbs and rope to close roads and block access to public transport, with some bus drivers trying to remove the barricades.
Fist fights broke out between rival groups, which then degenerated into battles with sticks and stones as police used tear gas to try to disperse them.
Demonstrations have raged since presidential elections October 20 that saw Morales gain an unconstitutional fourth term amid allegations of irregularities in the vote count.
Mesa has urged his supporters to keep up the pressure with strikes backed up by street protests.
La Paz mayor Luis Revilla, a Mesa ally, told reporters that the opposition strike was peaceful but blamed "whatever type of violence is being generated" on Morales supporters.
He said pro-Morales "shock groups" were provoking confrontations in different parts of the country.
In the central city of Cochabamba, clashes broke out between opposition supporters setting up barricades and regime loyalists trying to break them up.
No injuries were reported either in La Paz or Cochabamba.
La Paz's business district, where government offices are located, was relatively calm.
At the center of the conflict was a sudden and unexplained change in the ballot count last Monday that boosted Morales's lead, pushing him over the 10-point margin of victory required to avoid a run-off.
Mesa has denounced the official results as a "fraud" while various foreign powers, including the European Union and United States, have called for a run-off.
The Organization of American States (OAS), voicing "surprise" and "concern" over the ballot count, has agreed to conduct an audit of the results.
Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president, has been in power since 2006.
Already Latin America's longest serving leader, he is looking to remain in power until 2025 with a fourth term.
Bolivia's constitution limits a president to two successive terms, and a 2016 referendum rejected a bid by Morales to remove term limits.
But the country's constitutional court authorized him to stand for a fourth mandate.
The court, like the election tribunal, is made up of members appointed by Morales's Movement for Socialism party.
Â© 2019 AFP