Bolivian president says will call new elections

La Paz (AFP) –


Bolivian President Evo Morales called new elections Sunday, bowing to demands to do so after three weeks of deadly protests amid charges he had won a fourth consecutive term through fraud.

In a television address, Morales said he would "call for new national elections, which, by voting, allow the Bolivian people to democratically elect new authorities."

The country's Supreme Electoral Tribunal would be replaced, he said, meeting a key demand of opposition leaders who had accused its members of rigging the vote count in Morales' favor.

Morales, Bolivia's first president of indigenous descent, did not say whether he would run again.

His decision came shortly after the Organization of American States said it could not validate the results of the October 20 elections, after an independent audit found a range of "irregularities."

It said the results "must be annulled and the electoral process must begin again."

The OAS added that the first round of the elections should take place as soon as a new electoral tribunal is in place.

The development came a day after police in three cities joined anti-government protests and the opposition rejected Morales' appeal for urgent, open-ended dialogue.

Three people have died and hundreds injured in often violent protests since Morales claimed to have won a fourth consecutive term in a first round victory in last month's poll.

The results from that election gave Morales just over a 10 point margin of victory over his nearest rival, centrist Carlos Mesa, just enough for a first round win.

Morales said that in the new elections "the Bolivian people will be able to democratically elect new authorities, incorporating new political actors."

That begged the question whether Morales himself would stand again for re-election, a source of controversy because Bolivia's constitution, which he promulgated himself a decade ago, limits presidents to two terms.

The civic committees that helped propel the protests had called on both Morales and Mesa to step aside in new elections.

Morales said Bolivia's bicameral legislature, which his party controls, would meet in the coming hours for the parties to work out procedures for changing out the electoral tribunal.

"After this decision, I want to lower the tension. Everyone has an obligation to bring peace to Bolivia," he said.