LA PAZ (Reuters) - Bolivia's socialist government arrested former interim President Jeanine Anez on Saturday over involvement in an alleged 2019 coup, reigniting political tensions after deadly protests less than two years ago.
The move marks an escalation of hostilities between the current leftist administration and more conservative political opponents they accuse of ousting long-term leader Evo Morales.
"The political persecution has begun," Anez said on Twitter on Friday ahead of her dawn arrest. "The MAS has decided to return to the styles of the dictatorship."
Bolivia's socialist government, which swept back to power in October last year, is seeking the arrest of a raft of officials in Anez's right-wing former administration as well as ex-police and military leaders they allege fomented a coup.
Anez took power in late 2019 after Morales resigned amid widespread violent protests against his government over allegations he had stolen an election when running for an unprecedented - and unconstitutional - fourth term.
Morales and his supporters have long claimed he was forced out in a military-backed coup and have alleged involvement by foreign governments. Morales' MAS socialist party returned to power in elections in October with President Luis Arce at the helm.
The arrests brought swift condemnation from the Americas director of Human Rights Watch, Jose Miguel Vivanco, who said the arrest warrants contained no evidence to support a claim of "terrorism". "For that reason, they generate justifiable doubts about whether this is not a politically motivated process."
Government Minister Eduardo del Castillo said on Saturday that the Public Prosecutor's Office issued an arrest warrant for Anez "due to the case of a coup in our country".
He said the investigation against Anez and her ministers began in December and would follow due process. He confirmed the arrest along with that of Anez of her former justice minister Álvaro Coimbra and former energy minister Rodrigo Guzmán.
"There is no political persecution on our part here, and we do not fear anyone who thinks differently," he told a news conference. "What the government is doing is making sure justice exists in our country."
On Friday evening, Anez shared a link to the arrest warrant on social media, which included her name and those of many of her former Cabinet and said it contained allegations of terrorism and sedition against them.
Morales won the 2019 election but it was later annulled after international organisations including the Organization of American States (OAS) alleged it was fraudulent.
Anez rejected the claim she helped orchestrate a coup. "It was constitutional succession due to electoral fraud," she wrote on Twitter on Friday.
Her 11-month caretaker administration took Bolivia in a sharply different direction to Morales and had itself detained some members of Morales' previous government.
Arce, Morales' former economy minister, won the presidency in a landslide election, enabling Morales to return from exile.
Last week, Morales tweeted in reference to the post-election violence in 2019: "For a democracy with human rights, it is important to erradicate acts of violence like those in November 2019 and investigate violent groups and their regional leaders and submit them to justice." He has not commented on the arrest of Anez or her ministers.
Bolivian prosecutors are also seeking to arrest two former commanders accused by the current government of involvement in the purported coup against Morales. The military had urged Morales to resign during the protests in 2019.
A prosecutor issued arrest warrants on Thursday for former police chief Yuri Calderón and former Armed Forces commander Williams Kaliman over allegations of terrorism, sedition and conspiracy.
(Reporting Danny Ramos and Monica Machicao; Writing by Adam Jourdan and Aislinn Laing; editing by Grant McCool, Alexandra Hudson)