Bolivian police fire tear gas in capital as election protests continue

  • World
  • Tuesday, 29 Oct 2019

Demonstrators block a street during a protest in La Paz, Bolivia October 29, 2019. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

LA PAZ (Reuters) - Protests over a disputed presidential election continued to convulse Bolivia on Tuesday as police fired tear gas in the capital and the government invited the opposition candidate to participate in an audit of the results.

The brief suspension of publication of the results from an electronic count of the Oct. 20 presidential election has triggered protests and strikes that have closed roads, schools and businesses around the nation for more than a week.

Incumbent President Evo Morales, a leftist seeking a fourth term, was eventually declared the winner, prompting accusations of fraud from opposition candidate Carlos Mesa and his supporters.

In La Paz, opposition protesters mounted road barricades of rope, wooden boards and sheets of metal. Rows of helmet-clad riot police lined some streets, separating Morales' supporters from protesters opposed to the president.

Tear gas was used in at least two locations to disperse protesters.

Morales, who has been in office nearly 14 years and is Latin America's longest-serving leader, has said the Organization of American States (OAS) will audit the election and that he will go to a second round if irregularities are found.

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) and Morales, 60, both deny any election fraud.

"We, in the most transparent and secure way, confident in the sovereignty of the people, have invited an international audit," Vice President Alvaro Garcia told reporters early on Tuesday.

"We have called on the OAS and brother countries so they can clear up any doubt with respect to the malicious campaign of the losing candidate, who refuses to accept the decision of the Bolivian people," Garcia said.

"We want to ask Carlos Mesa, the losing candidate, to join the audit," he added. "We await a speedy and affirmative response."

With 84% of the votes counted on Oct. 20, polling showed Morales was likely headed to a runoff with Mesa. However, when reporting resumed after nearly 24 hours, it showed Morales had pulled off a razor-thin victory.

The final, legally binding vote tally gave him 47.08% of votes to Mesa's 36.51%, less than a percentage point more than the 10-point margin needed to avoid a runoff.

Mesa, who has said he is confronting authoritarianism, did not immediately respond to Garcia's invitation but is expected to hold a press conference on Tuesday.

Protesters in the streets accused the government of electoral fraud.

"The audit doesn't help now," said Pamela Velez, 37, as police deployed gas at a barricade in the central part of the city. "(The Morales government) has had a week to fix up (the vote)."

Mesa, a former president, told Reuters in an interview on Monday that strikers would not accept negotiations to end protests.

Five protesters were injured by gunshots on Monday in the industrial city of Santa Cruz. Police have said they are investigating the incident.

(Reporting by Vivian Sequera and Daniel Ramos in La Paz, additional reporting by Monica Machicao, Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota, Editing by Catherine Evans, Ed Osmond and Paul Simao)

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