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Bolivia's Morales resigns after losing backing of security forces

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La Paz (AFP)

Bolivian President Evo Morales resigned Sunday, caving in following three weeks of sometimes-violent protests over his disputed re-election after the army and police withdrew their backing.

"I resign my post as president," the leftist Morales said in a televised address, capping a day of fast-moving events in which several ministers and senior officials quit as support for Latin America's longest-serving president crumbled.

The streets of La Paz immediately exploded in celebration, as jubilant Bolivians set off firecrackers and waved the country's red, yellow and green flag.

The main opposition candidate in the election, former president Carlos Mesa, said Bolivians "have taught the world a lesson. Tomorrow Bolivia will be a new country."

Cuba and Venezuela, longtime allies of the leftist leader, denounced a "coup".

Morales -- a former coca farmer and Bolivia's first indigenous president -- was declared the winner of the October 20 presidential election a narrow margin, giving him a controversial fourth term, having first taken power in 2006.

But the opposition said there was fraud in the vote count and three weeks of street protests ensued, during which three people died and hundreds were injured.

The Organization of American States carried out an audit of the election and on Sunday reported irregularities in just about every aspect that it examined: the technology used, the chain of custody of ballots, the integrity of the count, and statistical projections.

As chanting Bolivians kept up demonstrations in the street, Morales called new elections, but this was apparently not enough to calm the uproar, and the commanders of the armed forces and the police joined the calls for the president's resignation.

- 'Political decision' -

Violence had continued earlier Sunday as a caravan of buses taking opposition supporters to La Paz was attacked, leaving three people injured, including one by gunfire.

Morales lashed out against the OAS mission, accusing it of making a "political decision" instead of a technical one.

"Some OAS technicians are at the service of ... power groups."

To make the announcement that he was stepping down, Morales traveled by plane to the coca-growing Chimore region of central Bolivia, the cradle of his career in politics.

It was there in the 1980s that Bolivia's first indigenous president made his name as a combative union leader defending farmers who grow coca, which in the Bolivian countryside is used for medicinal and other purposes. It is also the raw material for making cocaine.

He was accompanied by vice president Alvaro Garcia Linera, who also resigned.

Morales insisted he was not running away from his responsibilities.

"I do not have to escape. I have not stolen anything," he said.

"My sin is being indigenous. To be a coca grower."

"Life does not end here. The struggle continues," he said.

"I am resigning so that they (the opposition leaders) do not continue to kick our brothers," he said, referring to violent protests which have marred the weeks since his election victory.

Morales insisted his government was leaving behind "many social triumphs". The World Bank has credited his government for a decrease in the poverty rate from 45 percent of the population in 2010 to 35 percent in 2018.

On social media, Bolivians speculated that Morales might leave the country, perhaps going to Argentina, which just elected a center-left government.

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