Bolivians queue for chicken and fuel as protests cripple highways


  • World
  • Sunday, 17 Nov 2019

Supporters of former Bolivia's President Evo Morales meet in the Plaza Mayor, as part of the protests in La Paz, Bolivia November 16, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Romero

LA PAZ (Reuters) - Bolivians languished in long lines on the streets of La Paz on Sunday to secure chicken, eggs and cooking fuel as supporters of ousted President Evo Morales crippled the country's highways, isolating population centres from lowland farms.

Presidency minister Jerjes Justiniano told reporters the government of interim President Jeanine Anez had established an "air bridge" to supply La Paz, using planes to bypass barricades on highways surrounding the highland capital. He said officials hoped to do the same with other cities cut off from supplies.

Bolivia remained in limbo one week after Morales, a charismatic leftist and former coca farmer, resigned on allegations of vote-tampering. Lawmakers have yet to agree on a date for new elections.

Morales fled to Mexico on Tuesday. But his supporters from largely coca-farming regions the Andean nation have since taken to the streets, sometimes armed with homemade bazookas, handguns and grenades, barricading roads and skirmishing with security forces.

Some Morales supporters have demanded interim President Anez, a former conservative lawmaker, resign. Community leaders aligned with Morales in El Alto on Sunday were calling for a general strike Monday, raising the spectre of further supply shortfalls in the nearby capital.

Anez has agreed to new elections but also moved to quickly to implement changes in policy at home and abroad.

On Friday, Bolivia asked Venezuelan officials under the country's leftist leader Nicolas Maduro to leave the country. Anez's government also accused Cuba, once a close ally, of stoking unrest following Morales' resignation.

Anez officials on Sunday renamed the state newspaper "Bolivia." Morales had called it "Change."

As roadblocks take their toll, many in the poorer neighbourhoods of La Paz had taken to cooking over firewood as long lines for liquified gas, canisters and scarce food complicated life.

"I hope things calm down," said Josue Pillco, a construction worker from a working-class La Paz neighbourhood. "We're not getting any food or gasoline."

Violent protests Friday around Cochabamba, a coca-growing region and stronghold of Morales' supporters, left at least nine dead, officials said.

The local ombudsman in the Cochabamba region said police had used live ammunition against protesters, prompting allegations of human rights abuses by security forces under Anez.

Anez has blamed Morales for stoking violence from abroad, and has said her government wishes to hold elections and meet with the opposition to halt protests.

U.N. envoy Jean Arnault said a team would hold meetings with politicians and social groups this week to end the violence and push for "free and transparent elections."

(Reporting by Daniel Ramos and Gram Slattery in La Paz; writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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