Bolivia president Morales resigns after massive protests

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Evo Morales backed new elections on Sunday but was forced to resign hours later after the military urged him to stand down

By Financial Times

Evo Morales has stepped down as Bolivia’s president after almost 14 years in power, following pressure from the chief of the armed forces and a string of resignations over a contested election that led to weeks of protests.

“I am resigning,” Mr Morales said in a televised address from his stronghold in the coca-growing Chapare region in central Bolivia, a move that unleashed a wave of unrest.

“I want to tell you brothers and sisters that the fight does not end here. We will continue this fight for equality, for peace.” 

Williams Kaliman, the chief commander of the Bolivian armed forces, had urged him to quit “for the good of Bolivia”.

Several ministers, including the deputy president, also resigned on Sunday while police arrested two senior officials of the electoral commission amid allegations of fraud in the October 20 vote.

The protests

With the resignation of Mr Morales’s deputy and the heads both chambers of Congress — all members of his MAS party — Jeanine Áñez, a deputy head of Senate from the opposition, told local television that she might take over as interim president on Monday with the “only objective of calling for new elections and pacify the country”.

Mr Morales’s decision to resign sparked violent unrest in La Paz and El Alto, with scuffles on the streets and buses torched.

Late on Sunday, Mr Morales said that an arrest warrant for him had been issued and his house has been ransacked by “violent groups”.

The Mexican government offered asylum to Mr Morales and revealed that 20 members of the legislative and the executive were already at the Mexican embassy in La Paz.

Protesters

Leftist leaders from Latin America and Jeremy Corbyn, head of the opposition Labour party in the UK, labelled Mr Morales’s resignation a “coup”.

Earlier on Sunday, Mr Morales had agreed to call new elections “to lower the tension and pacify” Bolivia as protesters, joined by members of the police, challenged the results of a poll in which the president secured a controversial fourth term in office.

Last month, Latin America’s longest-serving president claimed to have won a razor-thin majority over Carlos Mesa, himself a former president. But on Sunday, the Organisation of American States called the result “statistically improbable” and demanded another election.

“To Bolivia, to its people, to young people, to women, to the heroism of peaceful resistance. I will never forget this day,” said Mr Mesa following Mr Morales’ resignation. “The end of tyranny.”

People celebrate

Pressure began mounting on Mr Morales on Friday when police forces across Bolivia came out in support of opposition protesters.

On Saturday, Mr Kaliman said the armed forces would “never enter into a confrontation with the people”.

After accusing protesters of fomenting a coup, Mr Morales first called for a “debate to pacify Bolivia” and political talks.

But this was swiftly rejected by several opposition politicians, including Mr Mesa, who said: “I have nothing to negotiate with Evo Morales.” He has called the vote a “monumental fraud”.

Mr Morales claimed victory following an unexplained decision by the electoral commission to freeze updates of the election count for nearly a day when it appeared that Bolivia was headed for a second round of voting.

Police joined anti-government protests

When the electoral commission resumed updates, they revealed Mr Morales had stretched his lead and was headed for outright victory.

Protests reached their peak this weekend as demonstrators from several parts of Bolivia made their way to La Paz, sometimes clashing with supporters of Mr Morales.

 “There has been a coup,” Mr Morales charged as he announced his resignation. “My sin is to be indigenous, trade unionist and coca grower . . . We are going to carry the sentence of Túpac Katari — we will return and we will be millions.”

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