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Senator Claims Interim Bolivian Preside11/13 06:33

   LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) -- Bolivians have new uncertainty to grapple with now 
that opposition Sen. Jeanine Aez declared herself interim president of the 
crisis-torn Andean country just hours after Evo Morales flew off to self-exile 
in Mexico.

   Questions remained about who might rally around Aez, while Morales' 
supporters angrily accused her of trying to seize power in her declaration 
Tuesday, raising the prospect of more troubles following weeks of clashes over 
the disputed Oct. 20 presidential election.

   Some people took to the streets cheering and waving national flags Tuesday 
night after Aez claimed the post of Senate leader, the position next in line 
for the presidency. Furious supporters of Morales responded by trying to force 
their way to the Congress building in La Paz yelling, "She must quit!"

   Aez, a women's rights activist and former TV presenter, seemed in a tenuous 
position. She declared herself interim president even though she lacked a 
quorum in the Senate after Morales' party boycotted the session, and she wasn't 
sworn in by anyone before appearing on a balcony of the old presidential palace 
wearing the presidential sash.

   "My commitment is to return democracy and tranquility to the country," she 
said. "They can never again steal our vote."

   Morales resigned Sunday under pressure from Bolivia's military chief 
following the weeks of violent protests fed by allegations of electoral fraud 
in the Oct. 20 election, which he claimed to have won.

   Although Aez met with Gen. Williams Kaliman, the armed forces commander, it 
was uncertain how much support she could count on from other power centers.

   Morales resigned shortly after an Organization of American States audit 
reported widespread irregularities in the vote count. Bolivia's first 
indigenous president arrived in Mexico on Tuesday under a grant of asylum. But 
his resignation still needed to be approved by both houses of Congress, and 
lawmakers could not assemble the numbers needed for formal sessions.

   Aez forged ahead anyway, arguing that Bolivia could not wait and be left in 
a power vacuum. After Morales quit, resignations by allies left vacancies in 
the only posts listed by the constitution as presidential successors --- the 
vice president, the head of the Senate and the leader of the lower house.

   Aez was a second-tier opposition figure until Morales, Latin America's 
longest serving leader resigned after nearly 14 years in power.

   She immediately tried to set differences with the socialist leader. She 
greeted supporters at an old palace instead of the nearby modern 26-story 
presidential palace with a heliport that was built by Morales and that his foes 
had criticized as one of his excesses. She also carried a Bible, which had been 
banned by Morales from the presidential palace after he reformed the 
constitution and recognized the Andean earth deity Pachamama instead of the 
Roman Catholic Church.

   Morales said on Twitter from Mexico that Aez's "self-proclamation" was an 
affront to constitutional government. "Bolivia is suffering an assault on the 
power of the people," he wrote.

   Even before Aez acted, thousands of his supporters were in the streets of 
the capital in peaceful demonstrations clamoring for his return. Military 
fighter jets flew repeatedly over La Paz in a show of force that infuriated 
Morales loyalists who were blocked by police and soldiers from marching to the 
main square.

   "We're not afraid!" shouted demonstrators, who believe Morales' departure 
was a coup d'etat and an act of discrimination against Bolivia's indigenous 
communities.

   "Evo was like a father to me. We had a voice, we had rights," said Maria 
Apasa, who like Morales is a member of the Aymara indigenous group.

   Morales' detractors accused him of becoming increasingly authoritarian and 
rigging the election.

   Morales was met at Mexico City's airport by Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard 
after a flight from Bolivia on a Mexican government plane and repeated his 
allegations he had been forced to resign by a coup.

   "The president of Mexico saved my life," Morales said, thanking President 
Andrs Manuel Lpez Obrador for granting him asylum. He vowed to "continue the 
struggle."

   Ebrard said Mexican diplomats had to scramble to arrange a flight path for 
the plane because some nations initially closed airspace to it. The plane 
stopped in Paraguay to refuel.

   Morales' departure was a dramatic fall for the one-time 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 
stability and high economic growth in South America's poorest country.

   In the end, his downfall was prompted by his insistence on holding onto 
power. He 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.

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

   Ronald Arias said he had left his home in El Alto and walked for three hours 
to his job in downtown La Paz because the cable car connecting the cities was 
suspended for security reasons and barricades blocked access to public 
transportation.

   Arias, a native Aymara, said that thanks to Morales, his parents in the 
countryside gained access for the first time to running water and gas for 
cooking.

   "I was so saddened by his resignation," he said. "A lot of people in El Alto 
shed tears for the president."


(KR)

 
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