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Evo Morales Flees Bolivia              11/12 06:53

   LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) -- Bolivia faced its worst unrest in decades amid a 
political vacuum Tuesday, while Evo Morales, who transformed the Andean nation 
as its first indigenous president, fled the country following weeks of violent 
protests.

   Morales flew out on a Mexican government plane late Monday hours after being 
granted asylum as his supporters and foes fought on the streets of the capital 
while an opposition leader tearfully laid out a possible path toward new 
elections in the wake of the president's resignation.

   Morales stepped down Sunday following weeks of widespread protests fed by 
allegations of electoral fraud in the Oct. 20 presidential election that he 
claimed to have won. Resignations by every other constitutionally designated 
successor left unclear who would take his place and how.

   His flight from the country was a dramatic fall for the llama shepherd from 
the Bolivian highlands and former coca growers' union leader who as president 
helped lift millions out poverty, increased social rights and presided over 
nearly 14 years of stability and high economic growth in South America's 
poorest country. In the end, though, his downfall was marked by his insistence 
on holding onto power.

   "It pains me to leave the country for political reasons, but I'll always be 
concerned," Morales said on Twitter. "l'll return soon, with more strength and 
energy."

   Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard published a photo of Morales holding 
the flag of Mexico, saying that the plane had left Bolivia and that Morales was 
safe.

   In an earlier tweet, Morales posted a photo of his first night after he 
resigned showing him lying on a floor with an improvised blanket as a bed. He 
said had been forced into these conditions after what he has called a coup by 
the opposition.

   Angry supporters of the socialist leader set barricades ablaze to close some 
roads leading to the country's main airport Monday, while his foes blocked most 
of the streets leading to the capital's main square in front of Congress and 
the presidential palace. Police urged residents of La Paz to stay in their 
homes and authorities said the army would join in policing efforts to avoid an 
escalation of violence.

   The Senate's second vice president, opposition politician Jeanine Aez, said 
in an emotional address that she would take temporary control of the Senate, 
though it was unclear if she would be able to get approval from Congress, which 
is controlled by Morales supporters. She would become next in line for the 
presidency if chosen to head the Senate.

   "Please excuse me if my voice breaks," Aez said between tears after arriving 
in Congress under heavy guard. "It's so hard to see Bolivians clashing, no 
matter which side they're on. They are being mistreated, and I'm asking you to 
cease the violence."

   Aez said she would convene a legislative session Tuesday to consider 
accepting the formal resignation of Morales. It was unclear, however, if 
lawmakers could meet that soon because of insecurity in the capital.

   As tensions grew, local media reported that Morales supporters were marching 
on La Paz from the nearby city of El Alto, a Morales stronghold, to try to 
break the street blockades thrown up by his opponents and reach the capital's 
main square.

   Gen. Williams Kaliman, the chief of the armed forces, announced the joint 
police-military operation in a television address. He said the hope was to 
"avoid bloodshed and mourning of the Bolivian family," and he urged Bolivians 
to help restore peace.

   Anti-Morales demonstrators in downtown La Paz set tires and other barricades 
on fire as other people went onto their rooftops to yell, "Evo, murderer!" 
Rock-throwing demonstrators also clashed in Cochabamba and other cities.

   His presidency, the longest among serving leaders in the region and the 
longest ever in Bolivia, ended abruptly Sunday, hours after Morales had 
accepted calls for a new election by an Organization of American States team. 
The team reported a "heap of observed irregularities" in the Oct. 20 election 
whose official results showed Morales getting just enough votes to avoid a 
runoff that analysts said he could lose against a united opposition.

   Morales stepped aside only after the military chief called on him to quit, 
saying that was needed to restore peace and stability. His vice president also 
resigned as did the Senate president. The only other official listed by the 
constitution as a presidential successor, the head of the lower house, had 
resigned earlier.

   Morales has lashed out at his political opponents, calling his removal a 
return to the bleak era of coups overseen by brutal Latin American militaries 
that ruled over the region.

   Former President Carlos Mesa, who finished second in the election, said 
Morales was brought down by a popular uprising, not the military. He noted that 
troops did not take to the streets during the unrest.

   "Academics and the press have been very critical of the Bolivian military. 
But this might be the only time in Bolivian military history that the military 
is on the right side for once," said Eduardo Gamarra, a Bolivian political 
scientist at Florida International University.

   "There's nothing here that remotely mirrors a traditional military coup," 
Gamarra added. "Perhaps this is a time that the military is playing a role that 
it should play. It's not intervening in what are essentially civilian affairs."

   Michael Shifter, head of the Washington-based think tank Inter-American 
Dialogue, warned that Bolivia's polarization needs to healed by new leadership.

   "The temptation for any vengeance against Morales supporters needs to be 
resisted," Shifter said. "That would be a recipe for continued conflict and 
chaos that could well put at risk some of the country's undeniable 
socio-economic gains over the past decade."

   People waiting for flights Monday morning at the airport in the eastern 
Bolivian city of Santa Cruz listened to the national anthem played on 
television and then watched replays of Morales resigning in his televised 
address and news of the street clashes.

   "At first people believed in him as an Indian. He was much more humble and 
accessible, but during these 14 years, he changed," Espaa Villegas, a linguist, 
said while she waited for a flight to La Paz.

   Morales, who was from the poor Andean highlands, had promised to remain 
austere when he became president in 2006. But shortly after, he bought a new 
airplane and built a 26-story presidential palace with a heliport.

   "He fought poverty, he lifted our economy, but perhaps he wasn't well 
advised," Villegas said.

   Morales ran for a fourth term after refusing to accept the results of a 
referendum that upheld term limits for the president --- restrictions thrown 
out by a top court that critics contend was stacked in his favor.

   "The whole population was tired of him because it's been nearly 14 years of 
government," said a businessman from the city of Cochabamba, who asked to be 
identified only by the name Walter, fearing reprisals by Morales supporters.

   "There was no respect anymore. We're hurt. He believed himself to be a god." 


(KR)

 
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