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Chaos in Bolivia as Congress attempts to pick new leader

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2005/06/08/MNGLHD55IL1.DTL Chaos in Bolivia as Congress attempts to pick new leader Battles
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 8, 2005
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      http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2005/06/08/MNGLHD55IL1.DTL

      Chaos in Bolivia as Congress attempts to pick new
      leader

      Battles clog streets -- lawmakers aren't sure where to
      meet

      Hector Tobar, Oscar Ordonez, Los Angeles Times

      Wednesday, June 8, 2005

      La Paz, Bolivia -- A day after his second try at
      quitting as this Andean nation's president, Carlos
      Mesa remained in office Tuesday as opposing camps
      failed to agree on where they should meet to choose
      his replacement.

      Street battles raged on the streets of this capital
      city, and commerce ground to a halt. Hormando Vaca
      Diez, president of the Senate, said the siege of La
      Paz by mostly Indian and poor farmers would make it
      difficult for Congress to meet here.

      Demonstrators have cut off the city's road links as
      they demand that the government nationalize Bolivia's
      oil and gas reserves and convene a constituent
      assembly to rewrite the Constitution to grant more
      power to the Indian majority.

      Vaca Diez, who is next in line to succeed the
      president, said congressional leaders could decide as
      early as today where the legislature will meet.
      Congress might convene in Sucre, Bolivia's ceremonial
      seat of government, which is 400 miles southeast of La
      Paz.

      Mesa tendered his resignation in a speech late Monday,
      conceding that he was no longer able to govern in the
      face of the protest movements. He also submitted his
      resignation in March, but stayed in office then when
      Congress rejected it.

      Now, however, it remains clear that Mesa's political
      support has evaporated.

      According to news reports, Vaca Diez is trying to
      build support among the legislators for a plan that
      would have him assume the presidency for 90 days until
      new presidential elections can be held.

      Vaca Diez represents Santa Cruz, the relatively
      affluent eastern province where regional leaders have
      said they will hold a referendum to decide whether
      Santa Cruz should enjoy greater autonomy from the
      central government.

      The eastern leaders want Bolivia's highly centralized
      government to be reconstituted with weaker federal
      powers. They also are seeking more local control over
      the petroleum reserves in their districts.

      Indian and trade union leaders said Tuesday they would
      fiercely oppose a Vaca Diez presidency, saying he
      represents the nation's "eastern oligarchy."

      If Vaca Diez becomes president "it would be a
      declaration of war on western Bolivia," said Cesar
      Rojas Rios, a political scientist in Bolivia. "Vaca
      Diez would put regional autonomy before the
      constituent assembly, sharpening the conflict."

      It has become clear that the leaders of the social
      movement based in the La Paz suburb of El Alto and the
      western Altiplano want dramatic changes in Bolivia's
      political institutions and the distribution of its
      wealth.

      Roberto de la Cruz, an Aymara leader in El Alto, said
      that if Vaca Diez assumes the presidency, tens of
      thousands of protesters in La Paz might cease to
      recognize the central government and form their own
      government.

      "We will form a popular government of indigenous
      people, peasants, workers and middle-class
      professionals," he said in an interview Tuesday.
      "Article Two of the Constitution gives us the right to
      do this."

      Vaca Diez issued a vague pronouncement early Tuesday,
      calling for respect of Bolivia's Constitution and
      asking the protesters in La Paz to give guarantees
      that they would allow the Congress to meet.

      One solution to the crisis would have Eduardo
      Rodriguez, the president of the Supreme Court, assume
      the presidency. Rodriguez would then call early
      elections to pick a new president and a new Congress.

      But reaching that agreement is impossible as long as
      Congress fails to convene a special session.

      Evo Morales of the Movement to Socialism, a leading
      candidate to be the next president, insisted Tuesday
      that the special session of Congress be held in La
      Paz.

      On Tuesday, protesters clashed with riot police just
      blocks from the Plaza Murillo, the site of Congress
      and the presidential palace. Protesters set off small
      chunks of dynamite and the police responded with tear gas.
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