A Bolivian protest leader will make a second attempt to reach the capital on Wednesday to demand President Evo Morales step down, a gambit which has sparked a fierce backlash from government supporters while helping rally a split opposition.
Luis Fernando Camacho, a civic leader from the eastern city of Santa Cruz, plans to deliver a pre-written letter of resignation for Morales to sign following a contentious election the leftist leader won last month.
Camacho attempted on Tuesday to reach La Paz but was barred from leaving the capital’s main airport in nearby El Alto for several hours as government supporters massed outside. An air force plane later returned him to Santa Cruz.
Camacho’s effort is likely to stoke tensions following weeks of long protests and strikes since the Oct. 20 vote. Hostilities have ramped up since Tuesday night in La Paz and Cochabamba with clashes between Morales supporters and the opposition.
Local television footage on Wednesday showed crowds clashing in the street with unidentified groups beating people with sticks. There were reports one person was killed in the city of Quillacollo. Others images showed people carrying slingshots.
A Reuters reporter saw Camacho arrive at the Santa Cruz airport late in the afternoon. The civic leader posted on Twitter saying he should arrive in El Alto at 7 p.m. (2300 GMT)
“Thanks to La Paz and Bolivia for the support!! In the name of God, the sun rises tomorrow for Bolivians!” he wrote.
Carlos Mesa, the runner-up in the October election, was waiting for Camacho at El Alto airport.
“I am here to receive Mr. Camacho and express our solidarity and support for his basic right of free movement and his right to petition,” said Mesa, who has repeatedly raised allegations of fraud against Morales and called for new elections.
“I think this is a fundamental moment for the opposition that believes in a democratic response and a peaceful way out.”
BOLIVIANS VS BOLIVIANS
With little sign of a political solution, the standoff has worsened. On Wednesday, newspaper headlines decried the violence and pointed to an economic cost of $167 million. “Bolivians against Bolivians” read the front page of one local daily.
Wilfredo Chavez, vice minister of public safety, said in a television interview that the government was installing a “larger contingent of police” to control the situation at the El Alto airport if Camacho returned.
“If the gentleman comes we will take every measure to ensure his passage,” Chavez said. A Reuters reporter saw a large number of police wearing protective gear and carrying riot shields arriving at the airport earlier on Wednesday.
Morales won last month’s vote with a lead of just over 10 points over main rival Carlos Mesa, handing him an outright win and avoiding a second-round runoff. The victory, however, was marred by a near 24-hour halt in the count, which, when resumed, showed a sharp and unexplained shift in Morales’ favour.
International governments have called for calm and are backing an audit of the election by the Organization of American States (OAS), which has recommended that a second round vote go ahead. Morales has agreed the audit will be “binding,” but many in the opposition are now demanding his removal.
Since the vote many cities have gone into lockdown with daily marches and road blocks. Camacho earlier this week called for people to blockade public institutions and the country’s borders in order to hit government incomes.
Benjamín Blanco, a senior trade official, said on Wednesday that borders with Peru, Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil near the municipality of Epitaciolandia had been affected with hundreds of trucks being stopped.
Morales has defended his election win and said that the opposition is trying to lead a “coup” against him and that his rivals were inciting violence. The opposition has maintained allegations of electoral fraud.
In a justice ministry bulletin on Wednesday, Minister Héctor Arce said that United Nations would send a commission to the country to look into human rights abuses, including the incitement to violence by opposition groups.
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