Morales calls for Bolivia violence ‘truce’ as OAS begins election audit
A technical mission from the Organization of American States (OAS) has begun an audit of the results that delivered Morales a controversial fourth term, and sparked deadly riots.
Opposition supporters have set up roadblocks while supporters of the presidential rivals have fought battles with their bare hands and makeshift weapons.
Many people have gone on strike while demonstrators have also clashed with security forces.
“To the social movements, I ask: lift the blockade. And to the brothers who are on strike in the cities: end the strike, bring peace to the country and wait for the audit results,” said Morales in a press statement.
Morales was reelected after narrowly claiming the 10-point gap needed to win the October 20 election outright, but only after a sudden and unexplained shift in the vote count in his favour.
The opposition, led by Carlos Mesa, quickly denounced the results as “fraud.”
The 30-strong OAS mission came to Bolivia to conduct the audit, which Bolivia’s foreign minister Diego Pary said would “last two weeks.”
Popular assemblies met in La Paz and Santa Cruz, demanding that Morales and his vice-president, Alvaro Garcia, resign and that new elections be held in December.
Rival groups clashed in the streets on Thursday as the audit began.
The government says two people were killed by gunshots and almost 140 people have been injured in 10 days of violent unrest.
On Thursday night, young opposition members protested in the Plaza de Armas in La Paz, where the presidential office is located, but they clashed with riot police who fired on them with tear gas.
‘Irreparable’ loss of life
Riots broke out almost as soon as the election ended.
Mesa said earlier this week that the Morales administration “is entirely responsible for the violent actions.”
However, Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera blamed Mesa for the clashes, calling him “angry, a liar and deceitful.”
Mesa has called on his supporters to maintain their strikes and street protests.
“The truth is that human lives have been lost. And that can never be made right,” Defense Minister Javier Zabaleta told local media on Wednesday.
The OAS team is to scrutinize the election result following an agreement between the government and the US-based grouping of 35 nations.
The government invited Mesa to take part in the audit, but the 66-year-old politician refused.
“We don’t accept the audit with these unilaterally agreed terms,” said Mesa, who has called for the results are given by the electoral court (TSE) to be annulled as a precondition to participating in scrutiny.
The Catholic Church has said it hopes the audit will lead to “an agreement” between the government and opposition and called on both sides to “collaborate to bring peace to the country.”
Morales, 60, was looking set to head into an election runoff against Mesa until the TSE abruptly changed the ballot count, increasing the president’s lead and helping him to the crucial 10-point gap.
The OAS expressed “surprise” and “concern” over the sudden change.
The European Union and the United States are among the foreign powers calling for a runoff.
Morales, who denied committing fraud, has said the protests are part of a “coup d’etat” encouraged by Mesa, who vowed, “either I go to jail or I go to the presidency.”
Bolivia’s first indigenous president, Morales has been in power since 2006.
Already Latin America’s longest-serving leader, Morales is looking to remain in power until 2025 with a fourth term.
The country’s constitution limits a president to two successive terms, and a 2016 referendum rejected a bid by Morales to remove term limits.
But Bolivia’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.
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