Bolivian Military Won't 'Confront' Citizens as Pressure on Morales Builds

A demonstrator kicks a tear gas canister thrown by the police during a protest against President Evo Morales' reelection in La Paz Bolivia Thursday

Bolivian President Evo Morales denounced what he called a coup d'etat by violent groups on Saturday, when police officers joined opposition protests amid a week-long confrontation over a disputed election. The opposition, which has alleged vote-rigging, says it will not accept the results because it was not consulted about the audit plan.

In the city of Cochabamba, the scene of violent clashes, Reuters journalists reported seeing police officers protesting on the roof of their headquarters in an apparent act of disobedience against the government.

Defense Minister Javier Zabaleta initially played down the police protests, saying a "police mutiny occurred in a few regions".

People should remain calm, he said, adding there were no plans to mobilize the military.

"There is normalcy in the rest of the country and we hope that services will resume", he said.

In some La Paz neighborhoods, police retreated to their barracks rather than take on protesters who shouted: "Police, our friends, the people are with you". "This is a political problem and it should be resolved within that realm".

Adding to the pressure on Morales, the Armed Forces said in a statement on Saturday "that we will never confront the people to whom we have a duty and we will always ensure peace, coexistence and the development of our homeland". Officials there were evacuated, leaving only a military presidential guard. He said the four parties that received the most votes in the nine-candidate election should sit down with "an open agenda to pacify Bolivia". His government issued a statement claiming that an opposition plot to oust the president was being led by Camacho and former President Carlos Mesa, who finished second in the October 20 election.

"I have nothing to negotiate with Evo Morales, who has lost all grip on reality", Mesa said. "We, the police, belong to the people, we do not belong to a political party or particular government".

In rapid succession police units in the official capital, Sucre, and the most populous city, Santa Cruz, a bastion of the opposition, announced they were joining a mutiny launched by police officers in Cochabamba on Friday.

"We are here to protect the police", one protester, who did not want to give her name, said.

In his toughest ever electoral race, Morales claimed victory with just enough votes to avoid a second-round runoff.

Morales had previously refused to accept the results of a referendum upholding term limits for the president.

But a 24-hour lapse in releasing vote results raised suspicions among opposition supporters that there had been fraud.



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