LA PAZ – Bolivian police and troops killed three people and wounded 30 others on Tuesday in an operation to evict supporters of former president Evo Morales from an oil refinery in El Alto, near La Paz.
“According to the preliminary information, the three people died as a result of gunshots,” the Ombudsman’s Office said.
Security forces went to the refinery in El Alto’s Senkata district to enable the resumption of fuel shipments, which had been blocked by activists from the leftist MAS party after Morales resigned on Nov. 10 under duress.
The wounded, including some in critical condition, were taken from Senkata to hospitals in El Alto and La Paz, the Ombudsman’s Office said, appealing to the armed forces to return to the barracks “to avoid more deaths.”
The military, meanwhile, said that it had received “intelligence” that the people occupying the refinery had high-powered explosives which they planned to use to destroy the installations.
The violence occurred after armored vehicles escorted a convoy of oil tankers away from the refinery.
Tuesday’s fatalities bring to at least 30 the number of people killed as the security forces repress protests against the self-proclaimed interim government that took power following Morales’ resignation and flight into exile in Mexico.
More than 700 others have been wounded.
Bolivians went to the polls on Oct. 20 to choose their president for the next five years. In a statement issued the day after the election, the Electoral Observation Mission from the Organization of American States (OAS) said that Morales and former head of state Carlos Mesa had appeared to be headed for a runoff before an “inexplicable change” in the trend of the vote count occurred.
Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous head of state, maintains that his late surge in the balloting came after votes from remote rural areas were counted.
He agreed to an OAS audit of the votes amid pressure from violent, post-election protests.
The OAS released its findings Nov. 10, saying that there had been a “clear manipulation” of the process and calling for a new election to be held.
Yet the OAS cited ostensible irregularities in just 78, or 0.22 percent, of the tally sheets from 34,555 polling places. And the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research said that a statistical analysis of the final results uncovered no anomalies.
Morales responded to the OAS statement by immediately agreeing to a new vote administered by a reconstituted electoral court. Even so, the armed forces commanders appeared on television to “suggest” that the president step down, echoing an earlier call from the National Police.
Under pressure from the security forces and amid a wave of mob violence that included an arson attack on the home of the president’s sister and the abduction of family members of MAS officeholders, Morales announced his resignation in a video posted online.
The mere participation in this year’s election by Morales – who enacted a new constitution in 2009 that “refounded” Bolivia to the advantage of the Andean nation’s downtrodden Indian majority – was seen as illegitimate by the opposition.
Two days after Morales stepped down, right-wing Sen. Jeanine Añez, whose party garnered less than 4 percent of the national vote in last month’s elections, swore in as interim president.