Bolivia's Crisis Turns Deadly Again 11/16 09:12

Bolivia's Crisis Turns Deadly Again    11/16 09:12

   SACABA, Bolivia (AP) -- Bolivia's political crisis turned deadly again when 
security forces opened fire on supporters of Evo Morales. At least five people 
died and dozens were injured, threatening the interim government's efforts to 
restore stability following the resignation of the former president in an 
election dispute.

   Most of the dead and injured Friday in Sacaba, near the city of Cochabamba, 
had been shot, Guadalberto Lara, director of the town's Mexico Hospital, told 
The Associated Press. He called it the worst violence he's seen in his 30-year 
career.

   Angry demonstrators and relatives of the victims gathered at the site of the 
shootings, chanting: "Civil war, now!"

   Morales, who was granted asylum in Mexico after his Nov. 10 resignation, 
said on Twitter that a "massacre" had occurred and he described the interim 
government led by Jeanine Aez as a dictatorship.

   "Now they are killing our brothers in Sacaba, Cochabamba," he said in 
another tweet.

   At least 13 other people had died during weeks of earlier protests against 
Morales before his departure, according to the national Ombudsman's Office. 
Several came in clashes between the president's backers and those accusing him 
of fraudulently trying to win reelection.

   Protesters Friday said police fired when demonstrators, including many coca 
leaf growers who backed Bolivia's first indigenous president, tried to cross a 
military checkpoint. Emeterio Colque Snchez, a 23-year-old university student, 
said he saw the dead bodies of several protesters and about two dozen people 
rushed to hospitals, many covered in blood.

   Presidency Minister Jerjes Justiniano told reporters in La Paz that five 
people had been killed and an estimated 22 were injured. He accused protesters 
of using "military weapons."

   Lara, the hospital director, said that 75 people were injured. 

   Earlier in the day, Aez said Morales would face possible legal charges for 
election fraud if he returns home from Mexico City.

   Aez also has said Morales would not be allowed to participate in new 
presidential elections, which are supposed to be held within three months.

   The ousted leader, meanwhile, contended this week he is still president 
since the country's legislature has not yet approved his resignation.

   Morales stepped down following nationwide protests over suspected 
vote-rigging in an Oct. 20 election in which he claimed to have won a fourth 
term in office. An Organization of American States audit of the vote found 
widespread irregularities. Morales has denied there was fraud.

   Families of the victims held a candlelight vigil late Friday in Sacaba. A 
tearful woman put her hand on a wooden casket surrounded by flowers and asked: 
"Is this what you call democracy? Killing us like nothing?" Another woman cried 
and prayed in Quechua over the coffin of Omar Calle, which was draped both in 
the Bolivian national flag and the multicolor "Wiphala" flag that represents 
indigenous peoples.

   Bolivia's Ombudsman's Office called on the interim government to investigate 
if the security forces had acted within the constitution and international 
protocols on human rights.

   "We express our alarm and concern over the result of an attempt to stop a 
demonstration by coca leaf growers from entering the city of Cochabamba," it 
said, adding that it had counted 13 earlier deaths since the protests began.

   The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights condemned what it called "the 
disproportionate use of police and military force" in the clash.

   "Firearms must be excluded from the operations used to control the social 
protests," the commission said on Twitter with along with a video that showed 
the five people lying dead on a blanket on the floor. Soldiers and police in 
riot gear had been patrolling the area with armored vehicles in the previous 
days.

   "We're not going to let them make us flee, nor humiliate us. Let me say to 
Mrs. Aez that she must denounce this. If not the whole country is going to 
close in on her," said Enrique Mamani, 21, a local resident. "They have carried 
out a state coup, paid off the military, paid off the police. There's political 
persecution against our leaders."

   Backers of the interim government deny any coup, saying police and the 
military withdrew backing from Morales only to avoid shedding civilian blood 
during the massive protests against him.

   Supporters of Morales, who had been Bolivia's president for almost 14 years 
and was the last survivor from the "pink tide" of South American leftist 
leaders, have been staging disruptive protests since his ouster, setting up 
blockades that forced closure of schools and caused shortages of gasoline in 
the capital.

   "There's no gas," said Efran Mendoza, a taxi driver from El Alto, who was 
forced to buy gasoline on the black market at twice the regular price.

   "Products are scarce. There's no meat, no chicken, people are making long 
lines. It's all because of the blockades," he said. "There's division in 
Bolivia. It's exasperating."

   Aez, who had been the highest-ranking opposition official in the Senate, 
proclaimed herself president when Morales resigned, saying every person in the 
line of succession ahead of her ---all of them Morales backers --- had resigned.

   The Constitutional Court issued a statement backing her claim that she 
didn't need to be confirmed by Congress, a body controlled by Morales' Movement 
Toward Socialism party.

   Much of the opposition to Morales sprang from his refusal to accept a 
referendum that would have forbidden him from running for a new term.


(KR)

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