Clashes rock Bolivia as new interim leader challenged

LA PAZ, BOLIVIA (AP) – Renewed clashes rocked Bolivia’s capital on Wednesday as the woman who claimed the presidency, a second-tier lawmaker thrust into the post because of a power vacuum, faced challenges to her leadership from supporters of the ousted Evo Morales.

A day after Jeanine Añez assumed power, violent clashes broke out between rock-throwing Morales’ backers and police in riot gear, who fired volleys of tear gas to disperse the large crowd of protesters as fighter jets flew low overhead in a show of force.

Opposition was also building in Congress, where lawmakers loyal to Morales were mounting a challenge to Añez’s legitimacy by trying to hold new sessions that would undermine her claim to the presidency. The sessions – dismissed as invalid by Añez’s faction – added to the political uncertainty following the resignation of Morales, the nation’s first indigenous leader, after nearly 14 years in power.

In the streets, angry demonstrators tore off corrugated sheets of metal and wooden planks from construction sites to use as weapons, and some set off sticks of dynamite. Many along flooded the streets of the capital and its sister city of El Alto, a Morales stronghold, waving the multi-coloured indigenous flag and chanting, “Now, civil war!”

“We don’t want any dictators. This lady has stepped on us – that’s why we’re so mad,” said Paulina Luchampe. “We’re going to fight with our brothers and sisters until Evo Morales is back. We ask for his return. He needs to put the house in order.”

The 60-year-old Morales, who arrived in Mexico on Tuesday under a grant of asylum, has vowed to remain active in politics and said he would be willing to go back home. “If the people ask me, we are willing to return,” he said at news conference on Wednesday in Mexico City.

Backers of former president Evo Morales march in La Paz, Bolivia. PHOTO: AP