Bolivian security forces clashed on the streets of La Paz with supporters of unseated president Evo Morales on Wednesday, firing tear gas to clear crowds who hurled rocks and set fires in a test to Bolivia’s new interim leader.
With Morales thousands of miles away in Mexico City after he resigned under pressure on Sunday, crowds of his supporters carrying colorful flags and banners marched in the capital while his party’s lawmakers looked to unseat Jeanine Anez, the Senate vice-president who stepped in on Tuesday.
Anez, 52, said she wanted elections as soon as possible and denied a coup had taken place against leftist leader and newly-exiled Morales, who hinted he could return to Bolivia.
Morales’ 14-year socialist rule ended in violent protests and recriminations after rising pressure over accusations of vote rigging in the Oct. 20 election. But he struck a defiant tone from Mexico where he is seeking asylum.
“If my people ask, we’re ready to go back. We’ll return sooner or later … to pacify Bolivia,” he said at a news conference in Mexico City.
Anez, who has already overhauled some of Morales’ policies, faces a challenge from lawmakers of Morales’ Movement for Socialism (MAS) party, who have a majority in parliament and have threatened a rival session to nullify her presidency.
The religious conservative arrived to take on her new role carrying a bible in a symbolic break from indigenous leader Morales. She has already recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido over Morales ally President Nicolas Maduro.
Anez was forced to declare herself president after legislators from the MAS party boycotted her swearing in. She instead invoked a constitutional clause as the next person in line for succeeding the president.
But Morales’ loyalists say that move was illegal because Congress did not formally accept Morales’ resignation, and tried to hold a counter meeting on Wednesday.
Large numbers of police around the central Plaza Murillo in La Paz appeared to block MAS lawmakers, including former Senate head Adriana Salvatierra, from entering the government building.