Bolivia announces binding audit of disputed vote tally

La Paz (AFP) –


Bolivia said on Wednesday it has agreed to a binding outside audit of disputed election results that gave a fourth term to President Evo Morales, but his opposition challenger rejected it as a solution to a crisis that has triggered riots and cries of fraud.

The review of the October 20 vote count will be conducted by the US-based Organization of American States, and could start as soon as Thursday, Foreign Minister Diego Pary said.

"We have concluded the work of coordination. We concluded the agreements to be signed with the Organization of American States," Pary told reporters.

He said the results of the audit would be binding for the government and the OAS, a grouping of the 35 independent nations of the Americas headquartered in Washington.

However, opposition leader Carlos Mesa, who was defeated by Morales in the vote, rejected the audit.

"We don't accept the audit with these unilaterally agreed terms," said Mesa, who has called for the results given by the electoral court (TSE) to be annulled.

He complained that nobody else had been consulted and that the opposition's conditions had not been met, including its demand that TSE's count be revoked and that the audit involve representatives of civil society.

A 30-member OAS team is on its way to Bolivia to conduct the investigation, Pary said.

Morales' re-election was thrown into question by a sudden and unexplained shift in the vote tally that benefited the 60-year-old socialist leader, who until then had appeared to be headed for a runoff with Mesa, a centrist former president.

The final count gave Morales a lead of more than 10 points -- enough to avoid a runoff.

Angry opposition protesters have set up street barricades and gone on strike, fighting Morales supporters with bare hands and makeshift weapons.

Demonstrators have also clashed with security forces.

Mesa has called for strikes to continue and claimed that civic institutions and social movements supported his rejection of the official results.

He also accused the government of ignoring the popular will and blamed it for the street violence.

He is backed by allies ranging from the center left to the right.

Foreign powers such as the European Union and the United States have called for a second round runoff.