Bolivia seeks new leader as Morales heads for Mexico refuge

Reuters La Paz Nov 12, 2019, 06.46 PM(IST)

Bolivia protests Photograph:( Reuters )

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Morales, who quit after weeks of protests over a disputed October election, flew in a Mexican Air Force plane from the town of Chimore

Bolivia's former leader Evo Morales was flying to Mexico for asylum on Tuesday as security forces sought to quell violence over the long-serving leftist's resignation and lawmakers searched for an interim replacement.

Morales, who quit after weeks of protests over a disputed October election, flew in a Mexican Air Force plane from the town of Chimore, a stronghold where Bolivia's first indigenous president retreated as his 14-year rule imploded.

The plane stopped in Paraguay to refuel, before flying on to Mexico where it was due around 9 am local time.

"His life and integrity are safe," tweeted Mexico's Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, whose leftist government has supported Morales' accusations of a coup against him by political rivals.

Ebrard tweeted a photo of Morales seated alone in the jet with a downcast, unsmiling expression, displaying Mexico's red, white and green flag across his lap.

In Bolivia's highland capital La Paz, roadblocks were still in place after soldiers and police patrolled late into the night to deter fighting between rival political groups and looting that erupted after Morales' resignation.

The charismatic, 60-year-old, former coca leaf farmer was beloved by the poor when he won power in 2006, but alienated Bolivians by insisting on seeking a fourth term.

New president sought

Lawmakers were expected to meet on Tuesday to formally accept Morales' resignation and begin deciding an interim leadership prior to a new election.

The government collapsed on Sunday after the Organization of American States (OAS) delivered a damning report on irregularities during the October vote, prompting ruling party allies to quit and the army to urge Morales' departure.

With Morales' deputy and many allies in government and parliament also gone, opposition politician and Senate second vice-president Jeanine Anez may take the top job temporarily.

Bolivia and Latin America are starkly divided by Morales' fall, with detractors exulting in the fall of a "dictator" and supporters denouncing a coup by right-wing foes determined to put Bolivia's capitalist elite back in charge.

Morales' Defense Minister Javier Zavaleta also resigned on Tuesday and called on election runner-up Carlos Mesa and protest leader Luis Fernando Camacho to avoid violence.

Morales achieved steady economic growth in one of the region's poorest nations and was for many years hugely popular, but his successful legal challenge to a 2016 referendum stopping him running for another term brought accusations of autocracy.

His departure has added to a wave of unrest around Latin America, including in nearby Ecuador and Chile where protesters have been berating leaders over social inequalities.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador praised Morales for resigning rather than putting lives at risk.