Bolivia opposition leader Mesa slams widening coup probe

FILE PHOTO: Bolivia's former president and leader of Citizen Community (CC) Carlos Mesa speaks about former president Jeanine Anez's detention in La Paz, Bolivia, March 13, 2021. REUTERS/David Mercado/File Photo

LA PAZ (Reuters) - Bolivia's opposition leader, conservative former President Carlos Mesa, said on Wednesday the country's socialist government was seeking to hobble rivals by trumping up charges they mounted a coup in 2019 against then-leader Evo Morales.

Bolivian prosecutors under President Luis Arce, a close Morales ally, have in recent weeks taken testimony from more than 30 former officials over the ouster of Morales, who resigned and fled the country two years ago amid widespread protests.

In a power vacuum, he was succeeded by right-wing lawmaker Jeanine Anez, who was interim leader until late last year when Morales' socialist party returned to power. Anez is currently in jail in La Paz on allegations that she participated in a coup against Morales.

Mesa is set to testify before prosecutors on Thursday in the case, in which Anez's allies including himself, are also being investigated.

"By accusing me as the author of the alleged coup, Morales has decided to complete his plan, destroy me and destroy the main force of the democratic opposition in the country," Mesa said at a press conference.

Morales, who led the country for almost 14 years and was an icon of the region's left, was accused of rigging a 2019 election in his favor. Mesa was the losing opposition candidate in that election, since annulled, and again last year, and he leads the main opposition party in the country's legislature.

The tensions come as Latin America's left is gaining steam throughout the region.

Prosecutors accuse Anez, Mesa and their allies of threatening those before Anez in the line of succession so they would step aside for her to become interim president.

Mesa warned that what he called political persecution would further plunge Bolivia into crisis, even as the Andean nation battles devastating economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

(Reporting by Daniel Ramos; Writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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