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Bolivia Military Warns of Violence

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://ap.washingtontimes.com/dynamic/stories/B/BOLIVIA_UNREST?SITE=DCTMS&SECTION=HOME Jun 9, 11:59 AM EDT Bolivia Military Warns of Violence By BILL CORMIER
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 9, 2005
      http://ap.washingtontimes.com/dynamic/stories/B/BOLIVIA_UNREST?SITE=DCTMS&SECTION=HOME

      Jun 9, 11:59 AM EDT

      Bolivia Military Warns of Violence

      By BILL CORMIER
      Associated Press Writer

      LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) -- The head of Bolivia's armed
      forces warned Thursday of violence and suggested the
      military could intervene, urging lawmakers poised to
      elect a successor to the ousted president to act
      "serenely" to end the political crisis.

      Navy Adm. Luis Aranda Granados went on national
      television to urge the lawmakers to remain within the
      bounds of the constitution and hear the "will of the
      people" in their work to choose a new leader. But he
      rejected an assessment by outgoing President Carlos
      Mesa that the country was on the brink of a civil war.

      "It's evident that there does exist a risk of
      confrontation between Bolivians, but I would say the
      term 'civil war' is too extreme," Granados said.
      "Confrontation between Bolivians is the greatest
      risk."

      In Bolivia's tightly guarded historic capital of
      Sucre, the lawmakers were to open an emergency session
      of Congress to name a replacement for the U.S.-backed
      Mesa, who resigned Monday after weeks of violent
      street protests.

      They were widely expected to name Senate leader
      Hormando Vaca Diez, a conservative lawyer and
      landowner who is next in line to assume the
      presidency. The protesters have vowed to drive Vaca
      Diez from office if he assumes the presidency.

      "We are going to respect the decisions of Congress
      because we are making a serene call for all actors in
      this conflict ... to arrive at a real solution,"
      Granados said. "As long as there is no break in the
      constitutional and democratic system, we will continue
      to safeguard this entire process."

      Moments after the admiral's comments, Vaca Diez
      announced the postponement of the congressional
      session so party leaders could meet.

      Street protests by indigenous groups, miners,
      students, labor activists and farmers have crippled
      Bolivia since May 14. The demonstrators, often
      numbering in the tens of thousands, have marched
      almost daily in the paralyzed capital of La Paz,
      demanding more social benefits for the poor and such
      steps as nationalizing Bolivia's oil industry.

      The protesters are demanding that Vaca Diez and the
      next-in-line to succeed Mesa both step down to allow
      the Supreme Court chief justice to take power and call
      early elections.

      Leftist opposition leader Evo Morales lashed out late
      Wednesday at Vaca Diez, saying he was a wealthy
      landowner and another discredited member of the "mafia
      of the oligarchy" that has ruled Bolivia for decades.

      "We will wage a campaign of civil disobedience"
      against any Vaca Diez presidency, warned Morales, a
      leader of poor coca leaf-farmers and a House deputy
      who heads a leftist party, the Movement Toward
      Socialism. "The street mobilizations will not halt."

      La Paz Mayor Juan Del Granado also stepped up pressure
      for early elections by announcing he and 20 other
      civic colleagues were beginning a hunger strike,
      adding, "Our protest is not about politics, but about
      the future of Bolivia."

      A farmer and businessman, Vaca Diez, 56, hails from
      the eastern region of Santa Cruz and is widely seen as
      a conservative and free-market supporter. However, his
      MIR party has been mired in past corruption scandals
      and is reviled by Indian and labor groups in the
      western highlands around La Paz.

      Morales and other leaders are trying to persuade Vaca
      Diez to immediately resign the presidency, giving it
      to second-in-line House leader Mario Cossio. They want
      Cossio to resign as well, sending the presidency to
      third-in-line Supreme Court Justice Eduardo Rodriguez.

      If Rodriguez becomes president, he must call elections
      within five months, while either Vaca Diez or Cossio
      would be allowed by law to serve out Mesa's term,
      which runs until August 2007.

      Vaca Diez refused Thursday to say whether he would
      allow such a scenario if elected.

      "I hope that all goes well and that the peace can be
      restored in Bolivia," he said.

      Camouflaged army troops with rifles at ready guarded
      the whitewashed hall where the leaders were to open
      their session in Sucre, the historic capital after
      Bolivia gained independence in the 19th century.
      Legislative and executive branches of government later
      relocated to La Paz, though the Supreme Court is still
      headquartered in Sucre.

      Chronically unstable Bolivia, landlocked and with much
      of the country at high altitudes in the Andes
      Mountains, is South America's poorest nation. It is
      split between Indian and labor groups from the poor
      western highlands, and the ruling class from Santa
      Cruz in the east and the oil-rich gas fields to the
      south.

      The divides created by the U.S.-backed war on drugs
      also are at issue: Opposition leader Evo Morales draws
      his support from farmers who grow coca leaf, the raw
      ingredient for cocaine, while Vaca Diez likely would
      ally himself with the U.S. campaign to eradicate coca
      leaf plantations.

      Morales demanded congressional leaders call early
      elections in which the anti-U.S. leader would likely
      be a leading candidate, although he failed in one
      earlier bid for Bolivia's presidency.
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