La Paz, Oct 24 (AFP/APP): Bolivia’s opposition launched a general strike Wednesday amid protests and disturbances over disputed election results that pointed to another term for President Evo Morales, who likened the unrest to a right-wing coup.
Speaking to reporters, Morales also said he will take measures to “defend” democracy and is confident he will be declared the outright winner of Sunday’s election — with no need for a runoff.
His opposition rival, Carlos Mesa, urged his supporters to step up protests against what he said was an effort by the three-term Morales — Bolivia’s first indigenous president — to steal the election.
Mesa said his supporters should proceed with “permanent mobilization” on the streets until the country’s electoral authority “recognizes that the second round must take place.”
He also announced the formation of a political alliance with right-wing parties and centrist leaders that will press for the election’s outcome to be determined in a runoff vote.
Clashes broke out between rival demonstrators Wednesday in the eastern city of Santa Cruz, the country’s largest and an opposition bastion.
Offices in the city housing Bolivia’s electoral authority were set on fire overnight, and security forces clashed with demonstrators in La Paz and elsewhere.
Morales, a former coca farmer and Latin America’s longest serving leader, is seeking a fourth straight term.
Partial results released Sunday indicated Morales would face off in a second round with Mesa, but the electoral court on Monday released stunning new results that suddenly raised prospects of an outright Morales victory.
That drew opposition complaints of fraud and triggered rioting in some cities.
“A coup is under way. I want the people of Bolivia to know,” Morales said in his first public remarks since the vote, referring to the strike and the violent anti-government protests.
“Until now, humbly, we have put up with it in order to avoid violence and we have not entered into confrontation.”