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Morales says he respects Bolivian interim leader's election bid

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Buenos Aires (AFP)

Bolivia's ex-president Evo Morales said Saturday he respects interim leader Jeanine Anez's decision to run in the May 3 election and called for a free and fair vote.

"It is her right," Morales told reporters in Argentina, where he lives in exile.

"And we do hope... that as a (representative of a) de facto government of the dictatorship, she can guarantee clean, transparent and healthy elections," the ex-president added during a meeting with Bolivians living in Argentina.

Anez had previously said she wouldn't run, and her Friday announcement shook up the country's presidential race.

Prior to her decision, only ex-presidents Carlos Mesa and Jorge Quijano had declared their candidacy along with Luis Fernando Camacho, a regional leader and key figure in the protests leading to the removal of Morales, a socialist.

A little-known senator, Anez assumed the presidency on November 12, two days after Morales stepped down following nearly a month of sometimes violent protests against his controversial re-election in a poll the Organization of American States said was rigged.

According to a survey published in early January by Pagina Siete newspaper, Morales' Movement for Socialism (MAS) leads voting intentions with 20.7 percent, followed by Anez -- who was not yet a candidate -- with 15.6 percent and Mesa, a centrist candidate, with 13.8 percent.

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