Police in three Bolivian cities join opposition

Cheryl Sanders
November 10, 2019

In the city of Cochabamba, the scene of violent clashes, Reuters journalists reported seeing police protesting on the roof of their headquarters in an apparent act of disobedience against the government.

Defense Minister Javier Zabaleta has downplayed the police protests, saying a "police mutiny occurred in a few regions".

The dispute over the presidential election has triggered nationwide protests, resulting in three deaths and more than 300 injuries.

Luis Fernando Camacho, a civic leader from the eastern city of Santa Cruz who has become a symbol of the opposition, appeared at rallies on Thursday and Friday in the capital La Paz, calling for Morales to step down.

In the city of Santa Cruz, a stronghold for anti-Morales sentiment, hundreds of opposition supporters marched along with police mutineers.

The foreign ministry said in a statement on Saturday the police officers had "abandoned their constitutional role of ensuring the security of society and state institutions".

On Friday night crowds cheered dozens of police officers who marched down a main avenue and garrisoned themselves in the city's central police station. "The police are joining their people", one officer said.

The government said on Friday that an audit of the contentious presidential election would likely be completed early next week, which could either back Morales' victory or throw open the door to a new vote. There will be no military operation at this time.

Bolivian Police Chief Vladimir Yuri Calderon had previously denied that a police rebellion was under way and called the Cochabamba incident isolated.

"Our democracy is at risk due to the coup d'etat launched by violent groups that undermine the constitutional order", he wrote as he wrote.

There was no immediate comment from either Camacho or Mesa.

Morales declared himself the outright victor even before official results indicated he obtained just enough support to avoid a runoff with former President Carlos Mesa. But a 24-hour lapse in releasing vote results fueled allegations of fraud by the opposition. The opposition, which has alleged vote-rigging, says it will not accept the results because it was not consulted about the audit plan. "We are asking that both sides hear us", Sergio Rengel, a leader in the tourism sector, told The Associated Press.

'I call on our people to peacefully defend democracy and the Political Constitution of the State, in order to preserve peace and life as supreme assets above any political interest, ' the president posted on his Twitter account. But he refused to accept the results of a referendum upholding term limits.

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